The dawning of the New Year always brings with it an expectation of the things to come.

It’s no different in the newspaper industry. And this year, market watchers will be keeping a close eye on two key developments.

The first, and perhaps the most hopeful, was the Jan. 28 introduction of the retooled and resized Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. The paper, now a compact broadsheet, is the first in the world to have its presses modified in the three-around press production format.

The conversion not only allows The Dispatch to retain its existing presses, but it gives the paper additional flexibility and capacity in terms of color and speed.

Additionally, The Dispatch — which will begin producing The Cincinnati Enquirer in the same format later this winter — can keep sectioning intact, a key benefit for both readers and advertisers alike (see our story on page 10).

It’s a gutsy move, and one accompanied by a comprehensive market research and focus group effort carefully planned to educate the market about the paper’s innovative design.

As Dispatch Chief Marketing Officer Phil Pikelny told us just prior to the launch, “This is what we call a game-changer. We are seeing excitement in terms of current subscribers as well as those who weren’t subscribers taking a second look.”

But The Dispatch’s conversion sends an equally important message to the industry overall: that print is still the force that weds a newspaper to the community it serves.

Pressline Services Inc., the vendor behind The Dispatch’s conversion, said it’s heard from dozens of publishers interested in what The Dispatch has done, and it hopes others will follow Dispatch Printing Co.’s lead.

Goss International and manroland web systems — two other vendors with similar press modification services — also are pitching their capabilities to prospective customers.

“If Columbus and Cincinnati do execute the changeover successfully, the economics will probably drive others to follow, especially given some renewed optimism lately on print’s lifespan,” wrote business analyst Rick Edmonds about the conversion’s potential impact on the newspaper industry.

There’s no question that U.S. papers, with few exceptions, have fallen far behind their global counterparts in offering unique reader- and advertising-friendly features.

Let’s hope The Dispatch’s bold decision translates into more readers, more advertisers — and more imitators.

The Dispatch’s investment becomes even more intriguing in light of the other major development catching the attention of U.S. publishers: the elimination of print days

It’s been going on five months since Advance Publications cut print days at The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune and three Alabama dailies, and we expect that we’ll finally hear some details on how well the strategy has fared in February, when T-P Publisher Ricky Mathews and Editor Jim Amoss address the Key Executives Conference.

So far, Advance hasn’t shed much light on how successful the cutback in daily print editions has been. The strategy has yet to be copied in other major markets, although Digital First Media just recently trimmed print days at its Oneida (N.Y.) Daily Dispatch to three days a week.

That said, it’s clear that U.S. newspaper publishers are interested in any tactic that will enable them to corral legacy costs.

The question is the effects those tactics will ultimately have on both the industry and its audience

In Columbus, at least, the company is betting on a revitalized print product as an integral component of their marketing strategy — which also spans digital and mobile distribution.

Advance, for its part, sees print as an adjunct to a digital-centric strategy where mobile distribution reigns supreme.

It will be fascinating to see how each strategy plays out in the months to come.