Christian Science Monitor, Seattle PI drop print, keep readers
The familiar rustle of paper or hands ink-stained with newsprint is becoming a thing of the past, while the news of the future comes via the clicking of the keyboard and from the beep of cell phones and Blackberries.
As the Web continues forward with its domination over paper, pioneers of daily digital newspapers claim that monthly unique visitors are increasing. (A site’s number of unique visitors grows when a new individual visitor is detected through cookies or the IP address from an individual computer.) Despite what appear to be positive stats, some industry experts are saying it’s too soon to celebrate.
Christian Science Monitor editor John Yemma agrees with that sentiment. “We’ve been Web-first for six weeks,” said Yemma in an e-mail interview. The Christian Science Monitor dropped its daily print edition in April and opted for daily Web coverage and a weekly print edition. “Our uniques are up modestly, but it really is much too soon to see a big difference.” The Monitor, he continued, never expected to see immediate results and is sticking to a five-year goal, starting with further Web development and a 30 percent increase of online traffic by May 2010. “So the real comparisons, just as in financial accounting, have to be year-over-year, not month-over-month,” he said.
And yet, Hearst Corporation officials in Seattle say they are hopeful. Only two months after the print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer folded at the ripe old age of 146 and a circulation of 117,600, the company is touting the still-young stats of SeattlePI.com. The largest paper to have gone completely online thus far, it has seen monthly unique visitors increase to 4.3 million in April 2009 from 4.2 million in April 2008.
“While uniques are up, page views are down, we need to see how that trend continues,” Ken Doctor, a media analyst with Outsell Inc., said in an e-mail interview. (A page view is a request to load a single page of an Internet site.) “The PI is doing smart local aggregation, including Seattle Tweets, which is a model worth watching.”
But media blogger Peter Kafka wonders if the particular SeattlePI.com model can be profitable. He notes that Web sites which have the number of visitors that SeattlePI.com has, for example one of the Gawker Media Web sites, typically support 12 editorial staffers, not the 20 employed by Hearst in Seattle.
In a press release, the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) reports that across the newspaper industry, monthly unique figures for newspaper Web sites have risen, increasing 12.1 percent from 2007 to 2008.
The NAA also maintains that online newspapers are benefitting from advertising relationships with Yahoo, with several newspapers having sold over $1 million in advertising through Yahoo. SeattlePI.com is following a similar path by using its existing partnerships with advertising placement companies including Kaango, Metrix4Media and Yahoo to create a local digital advertising agency, Hearst officials said in their press release.
Other papers riding the digital wave include the Kansas City Kansan and Kentucky Post. The Capital Times of Wisconsin, excluding a weekly print edition, moved its daily coverage online in the spring of 2008, and boasts a 57.6 percent increase of unique visitors from 2007 to 2009. In July, the Advance Publications-owned Ann Arbor News will close. The parent company will then launch a new online publication called AnnArbor.com, which will produce daily news coverage on the Web and a twice-a-week print newspaper.
The bottom line is that creating revenue for newspapers is always going to be an issue, said Yemma. “But what else is new? We have to fight for every dollar using a combination of publishing platforms (Web advertising, print advertising, print subscriptions, newsletter subscriptions, syndication, and perhaps Kindle and iPhone routes).” As for SeattlePI.com, the fellow onliner thinks they are going to make it.
“They have a brand, so people know to turn to them. They also, from what I’ve read, have a very low cost structure. I don’t think being “exclusively” online is a hindrance as long as your name is known,” said Yemma. “Print was a way for your name to be known because your brand was broadcast around the city every day via your newspaper delivery system. So Web-only operations that can ride benefit from that, have a natural advantage.”
–Katrina M. Randall
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