Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monitor move doesn’t spell end of print

Scrapping the print edition of the Christian Science Monitor may be the right thing to do for that publication, but the strategy would not be viable for most other newspapers.

The plan to stop printing the Monitor this spring makes sense for it, because its audience is geographically dispersed and the continued cost of printing and mailing a physical paper is prohibitively high for a title whose circulation has shrunk to only a quarter of the 220,000 papers it sold in 1970.

The Monitor also is under pressure to trim by two-thirds the $12 million annual subsidy it now receives from its patron, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston.

So, abandoning print is a good call for the Monitor, which intends to put the bulk of its resources in the future into an upgraded website and a slick, weekly magazine.

But a paperless strategy likely would not succeed at most general-circulation newspapers, which have no charitable endowments and draw the better part of 90% of their revenues from advertising in the print product.

As discussed here, a newspaper would have to at least triple its online revenues from the current levels before it could break even.

Until further notice, therefore, newspapers will need print editions in order to sell advertising, which is getting ever harder to come by.

Newspapers also will need readers to convince marketers that someone is looking at their ads. And, as discussed below, readers are getting harder to come by, too.

6 Comments:

Anonymous jerry ceppos said...

Alan, the problem with your argument is that the allure of the print edition--let alone the resources needed to get it out--overwhelms everything else. At most newspapers, the print edition occupies so much space in everyone's brains and so much emotional energy that the Web site is something of an afterthought. I hate to call the print edition the tail of the operation, but it is right now. And the tail will keep wagging the dog as long as print exists.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous b. cole said...

I just read Newsosaur for the first time. Very good, if depressing.
I do have one thought, at least about the LA Times/Tribune. If the company had not caked on so many layers of debt in various deals, how profitable would it be? In other words, take out the deal debt, and does the LA Times get back to 25 percent operating earnings? (Some debt is incurred for good reasons, such as buying new printing plants etc).
In other, other words, if the LA Times had been run like a family shop the last 25 years -- enough to makes Chandlers rich, but not too much more than that -- would it be reagrded as a profitable, if declining business?
Of course, there is not too much solace in these observations. Anybody buying the LA Times today would incur debt to make the purchase (not that there are any lenders right now out there. )
Hmmm. Maybe, in the end, Zell turns the Times over to a creditor's committee, and then the committee concedes defeat and turns it over to the employees.
Debt-free, they are able to stabilize the Times at 500k circ, and stay in business another while.

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Evil Pundit said...

Unlike b.cole, I've been a regular Newsosaur reader for some time.

Whenever I'm feeling a bit down about the state of the world, this blog cheers me up. Keep up the splendid work!

6:55 PM  
Anonymous Dave D. said...

...Mr. Ceppos' comment above certainly explains the behaviour of the SacBee in not correcting or updating their on-line edition in a timely manner. Glaring errors and typos go uncorrected all day as commentors point them out. It's apparent that the managers don't review their web product, or that they don't bother to correct easily correctable muffs. What I hadn't considered is what Mr. Ceppos brings to the table; that the print edition is so all consuming that no time or efforts are left to re-edit or proof the website. It's not just the Bee that has that problem, as my local papers web page goes stale when the person responsible to update it doesn't get around to doing it, sometimes several days. All this points to a footdragging reluctance to accept the inevitable shift to online viewing.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a lot about this Christian Science Monitor move that just doesn't plainly make any sense, parochial newspaper or mainstream newspaper aside. According to an interview with beatblogger.com, CSM editor John Yemma needs to raise $1.5 million a year to make his payroll, and intends to do that by expanding its Web traffic. He wants to go from the current 5 million page views a month to 25-30million a month, or a five or six fold increase. He said the new model will make the CSM sustainable within 5 years.
I don't see how that is possible. Ad rates for Web sites are declining sharply, and the audience for the CSM is hardly that of the New York Times or WPO.
I will be interested in following its progress, but I am very skeptical of this as a business plan for rescuing the rest of the newspaper industry from its doldrums.

3:19 PM  
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