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A Newspaper Loses the Paper

Something a lot of people have predicted is coming to pass -- a major American newspaper is going to end its print edition and make the Web almost its sole outlet. The Christian Science Monitor announced yesterday that it would end its daily print publication in April.

The, um, paper explained the decision in an article on its site. "Eliminating the major production and distribution costs of a daily newspaper," it said, would help the Monitor get to a sustainable financial situation.

My initial reaction was probably the same as that of most reporters: Ulp. Abandoning print and placing trust only in online revenues is a huge gamble, and in this case a fine paper is at stake (I used to read it most weekdays, back when I had oodles of spare time as a think-tank intern).

After mulling this over for most of today, though, I'm only surprised that the Monitor didn't do this before. Few other newspapers seem to have more to gain from online distribution -- as Howard Kurtz wrote in his story today, the move will get that paper's reporters out from under some absurd deadlines.

Also, I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge that all of my infrequent reading of the Monitor takes place at its Web site these days. The last time I saw a print copy was in a vending machine, and -- sorry! -- I didn't buy a copy at the time.

It's not that the Post is ready to make the same shift anytime soon -- it's only this week that we're switching the company newsletter ShopTalk to all-digital distribution in the newsroom. And as I've argued before, digital publishing doesn't fit well for many longer stories; to me, it seems far less pleasant to read a long Post magazine story on the screen than in print.

But technology changes, too, and it'd be a huge mistake to dismiss things that seem difficult with today's hardware and software.

Since I have zero special insight or input on what management here plans to do, I'll throw this one out to you all: Predict the year ("never" is an acceptable answer) when The Post stops printing on at least one day of the week. For extra credit, tell what sort of telecom or display innovation will encourage us to make that move.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 29, 2008; 5:15 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , The Web , The business we have chosen  
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The moment is moving upon us faster than 90% of those 'in the business' can recognize. Most probably the last to die will be single copy distribution which will continue at least as long as general magazine sales exist. Forget the familiar street corner vending rack as an already standing antique.

There is real innovation around the corner in the form of a "Kindle" like device. Sold by The Post just as Verizon sells the typical cell phone, complete with the fine print explaining an 'early termination fee'. I'll expect an offer such as a two year subscription, seven days/week delivery, with additional fees for access to e books, Newsweek, and other specials from the blogs of Post reporters. News 24/7 when I log on and use a 'google like reader, to access my priority concerns and interests.

I've little doubt The Post's new cadre are eagerly exploring these avenues as I write this. It's all a matter of costs and as you know too well already technology will move this way more quickly than many of us will ever recognize.

Posted by: glmoyer45 | October 29, 2008 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Within ten years. A device like the Kindle, but less expensive, will do the trick.

Posted by: wiredog | October 30, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Not anytime soon. Print publications are still more easily read, and more convenient for news and information on the go, or when you put up your feet and chill.

Also, people can be both digital and hard copy readers. I have AP Mobile News and Bloomberg apps on my iPhone. (The NYT app crashed too often.) But, I still read newspapers and magazines both online and in hard copy often. In fact, I opted not to get a couple monthly magazines in the Zinio digital version, but as hard copies. I predict that many readers will continue to prefer tangible copies of content they pay for.

Posted by: query0 | November 1, 2008 5:01 AM | Report abuse

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