Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

media and society

-- media and society -- headed for the future...

...and the future's now, it seems.

Monitor shifts from print to Web-based strategy
By David Cook | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
posted October 28, 2008 at 1:30 p.m. EDT

The Christian Science Monitor plans major changes in April 2009 that are expected to make it the first newspaper with a national audience to shift from a daily print format to an online publication that is updated continuously each day. The changes at the Monitor will include enhancing the content on, starting weekly print and daily e-mail editions, and discontinuing the current daily print format.

This new, multiplatform strategy for the Monitor will "secure and enlarge the Monitor's role in its second century," said Mary Trammell, editor in chief of The Christian Science Publishing Society and a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors. Mrs. Trammell said that "journalism that seeks to bless humanity, not injure, and that shines light on the world's challenges in an effort to seek solutions, is at the center of Mary Baker Eddy's vision for the Monitor. The method of delivery and format are secondary" and need to be adjusted, given Mrs. Eddy's call to keep the Monitor "abreast of the times."

While the Monitor's print circulation, which is primarily delivered by US mail, has trended downward for nearly 40 years, "looking forward, the Monitor's Web readership clearly shows promise," said Judy Wolff, chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society. "We plan to take advantage of the Internet in order to deliver the Monitor's journalism more quickly, to improve the Monitor's timeliness and relevance, and to increase revenue and reduce costs. We can do this by changing the way the Monitor reaches its readers." [...]

The Monitor Ends Daily Print Edition -

The Monitor Ends Daily Print Edition
October 29, 2008

After a century of continuous publication, The Christian Science Monitor will abandon its weekday print edition and appear online only, its publisher announced Tuesday. The cost-cutting measure makes The Monitor the first national newspaper to largely give up on print.

The paper is currently published Monday through Friday, and will move to online only in April, although it will also introduce a weekend magazine. John Yemma, The Monitor’s editor, said that moving to a Web focus will mean it can keep its eight foreign bureaus open while still lowering costs. “We have the luxury — the opportunity — of making a leap that most newspapers will have to make in the next five years,” Mr. Yemma said.

The Monitor is an anomaly in journalism, a nonprofit financed by a church and delivered through the mail. But with seven Pulitzer Prizes and a reputation for thoughtful writing and strong international coverage, it long maintained an outsize influence in the publishing world, which declined as its circulation has slipped to 52,000, from a high of more than 220,000 in 1970. In an industry that has been conducting layoffs, closing bureaus and shrinking the size of the product, The Monitor’s experiment will be tracked very closely. “Everybody’s talking about new models,” Mr. Yemma said. “This is a new model.”

[...] Dropping the print edition seems to tempt newspaper executives. At a recent conference hosted by the City University of New York’s journalism school, a group of publishing executives discussed what a cost-efficient newsroom should look like. They eventually settled on casting aside paper and starting fresh on the Web.

Still, said Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst at Outsell Inc., most newspapers cannot give up their paper versions. Print editions still bring in 92 percent of the overall revenue, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

“If that much revenue is tied up in the print product, if tomorrow these companies dropped those editions, they would have 90 percent less revenue,” Mr. Doctor said. While getting rid of costs like printing plants and delivery trucks would help a little, he said, it would not make up for the lost revenue.

Mr. Yemma said that print did bring in money at The Monitor, but most of that was from subscriptions, not advertising. Subscriptions account for about $9 million of The Monitor’s revenue, while print advertising makes up less than $1 million. Web revenue is about $1.3 million, he said. He is projecting that circulation revenue will drop, but he expects the magazine format will appeal to print advertisers. He is planning cuts, too. Mr. Yemma said he was planning some layoffs on both the 100-person editorial side and the 30-person business side. “I’m not sure the same number of people will be needed,” he said, but “there’s certainly nothing like a draconian cut coming.”

Under the new system, reporters will be expected to file stories to the Web and update them a few times a day, along with writing longer pieces for the weekend magazine....

The question is, how likely and how soon will other newspapers switch to this option? The Monitor is in a unique position; not only is it non-profit, but it's also a national daily. There are really only three or four of those published in the US: the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the International Herald-Tribune, and the Monitor are the only ones I can think of offhand -- and the Herald-Tribune is, as the name states, "international"; its primary audience, despite content that comes in large part from the NY Times (when did IHT start billing itself as "the global edition of the New York Times"?), really is almost entirely outside the United States. Of those four, I can't imagine the WSJ shifting to a primarily online delivery method any time soon; too many of its clients are "old business", let's call it, and really want a paper to give them an authoritative view, with online as a supplement for regular updating of certain stories and topics as needed. USA Today ... well, possibly. It does have a certain amount of online-only content, and to be honest, I have only very infrequently touched or even seen a physical copy of the paper in the last few years. I suspect their ad model might not hold up with that shift, however. The one I'm really curious about is the Herald-Tribune. with almost no domestic audience to worry about, depending on what the circulation, subscription and revenue figures are overseas, they're the other one of the four national dailies that can afford to tinker a bit.

Of the non-national dailies, the ones I might expect to go completely online next would be the mid-major sized newspapers, the ones for mid-sized cities, or the ones that are clearly the number two paper in a two paper town. As the article mentions, "the Capital Times in Madison, Wis. went online only, and The Daily Telegram in Superior, Wis., announced it would publish online except for two days a week"; you might expect to see papers like the Albuquerque Journal or the Tulsa Herald -- the only two successful online subscription dailies in the country -- or something like the Philadelphia Daily News or the Chicago Sun-Times to be the next ones to take the leap. For many of them, it's not going to be so much a choice for the bright shining future as a "what else have we got left to try? what else do we have to lose?" gambit.

What intrigues me a bit is one little nugget buried in the article, mentioned only in passing:

...The magazine, which will have an international focus, is meant to satisfy readers who are attached to print, Mr. Yemma said, but he said he did not expect it to be hugely profitable. “We certainly know newsmagazines are cratering,” Mr. Yemma said. “We’re under no illusions about it being a growth vehicle.”

That makes me wonder if, perhaps after the Herald Tribune and maybe USA Today, the next major publications to go web-only might not be Time and Newsweek, maybe even Sports Illustrated as well. It depends, of course, on whether or not they could replace circulation and page ad revenue with web ad revenue, plus having some special areas that are subscription only-- for example, the bulk of the ESPN site is free (including, oddly, much of its own magazine section), but the ESPN Insider sits behind a subscription firewall. It's hard to tell what does or would work; magazine publication on the web seems to be littered with models that tell you almost nothing. Nerve has survived as a mixed subscription/free-content site, while Salon has struggled mightily as a mixed site that's primarily subscription. That probably speaks somewhat to their content, and the peculiar effect the web has had on information and commodities -- people may not mind paying for sex, but they expect the news to be free, or close enough for gub'mint work. (Given the organization's desire for the Monitor to give back to it, rather than being subsidized, I somehow don't expec the Monitor magazine to last long.)

Yep, we're headed for the future and the future's ... well, it's someone's anyway. And soon the paperboys and newsprint itself may be consigned to the nonbiodegradable landfill of history.

Posted by iain at 06:49 PM in category media and society