A lot of people claim that this is a major mistake. They say that RS is losing a piece of what makes it distinctive. That it changes the reader experience and, therefore, the brand experience. That they're selling out to get some better locations in magazine racks.
I'll leave it to others to debate whether this is a good move or not. But it does raise an interesting question: when does the physical brand experience outweigh your brands distribution strategy?
I understand that RS is (theoretically) different mostly because its content. Attitude. World-view. But the size shouldn't be down-played. The tabloid size signaled that what was inside was more important than JUST music and pop-culture interview. It is clearly important. Possibly the most important meme RS had.
But is it more important than being able to get onto the check-out racks at Wal*Mart? Does it matter that it is a mature brand? Does it matter that it is a dying industry? Does it matter that soon more people will read RS on their iPhones than in a hard copy purchased at Albertsons?
What is the RS brand made of? And how tied in is its print size? Newspapers having been shrinking for years. And there's a pretty easy argument to be made that we don't need them at all.
What is your brand made of? Is it your personality? Your market? You? The physical experience? Your people? Which of those are you willing to give up if they conflict with your distribution strategy.
Apologies for the long list of questions. I don't have the answers. Wish I did.