Column inches: words to inches [Updated]

So maybe if you don’t involve yourself with newspapers and aren’t buying advertising space, you haven’t come across “column inches,” which is one inch of space in a column of a newspaper. People love reviewing a newspaper by its use of spaces, in available inches, like this report on the New York Times by Vanity Fair.

Editors at newspapers almost always deal in inches, telling writers to give them 11 inches, or 15 inches, or 25 inches. Us younger folks, with our word processors, are all about word counts. It’s super easy to get a word count today, so college newspapers and I are used to that.

I never remember the transition from inches to words, because it varies on a newspaper’s column width and how many grafs -paragraphs – one uses. But, of course, word counts are difficult because the size of one’s words also matter. So, this post is likely more for me than for anyone else.

Updated Aug. 24, 2011: Freelancer Patrick Kerkstra reminded me that, three years later, many newspapers have continued to shrink their papers, changing what its column inch is, so, though all might range even more widely, perhaps you’d be safer now to think one inch equaling 30 to 35 words.

e.g. 5 inches = 150 to 175 words

Regardless, the new rule is this: one inch = 35-40 words

Maybe 35 words for a six column newspaper like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and 40 for a five column newspaper like the Philadelphia Inquirer. Again, though, these are only approximations because word length and graf break-ups affect the total more than word count.

5 inches = 175-200 words

10 inches = 350-400 words

12 inches = 420-480 words

15 inches = 525-600 words

18 inches = 630-720 words

20 inches = 700-800 words

25 inches = 875-1,000 words

Peep a portion of this sweet explanation from a school in Spokane Falls.

Column Inches

Newspapers sell advertising space on a page to retail advertisers, advertising agencies, and other media buyers.

Ads are measured using column inches. A column inch is a unit of space one column wide by one inch high.

One newspaper column inch.

On the six column page above, the total available column inches would equal the number of inches high x the number of columns.

21 1/4″ x 6 columns = 127 1/2″

More here.

6 thoughts on “Column inches: words to inches [Updated]”

  1. Great, thanks! I never can remember either 🙂 I’m trying to get accustomed to inches in my first real job.

    Congrats on U-Wire’s top 100!

  2. Hi Christopher,

    Thanks for this — found it very helpful. I just want to make sure I followed correctly, but is it safe to use the word counts above (ie, 175-200 = 5 inches) to calculate ROI. I do have numbers for column inches and ad rates but feel that information is outdated.

  3. Kristen:
    Thanks for reading and commenting. However, I would be wary of using these numbers for ROI, as they are very rough figures mostly for a reporter’s word count. It can be used as a guide, but I don’t pass it off as anything more. Different newspaper layouts can greatly vary those totals anyway. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

  4. Thank you for this. It benefitted more than just you, rest assured. As a reporter who often has to write from the field and all I have to go off is a word count, this was very helpful.
    Over time I have got used to what about 12″ is, but never had a good sense for what a longer story would be.
    Thank you.

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