Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Christian Science Monitor to Cease Publishing Print Edition, and the Latest in Bad News for Newspapers

The Christian Science Monitor, founded 100 years ago by church founder Mary Baker Eddy, has announced that it will be the first national newspaper to cease publishing a print edition. The last printed regular paper will be published in 2009.

Some of the coverage, including the AP's "Christian Science Monitor to end daily publication," read like obituaries. I kept expecting to learn that survivors include the Christian Science Church and a diminished newspaper sector.

Meanwhile, the Audit Bureau of Circulation announced the latest circulation figures for U.S. newspapers -- and the figures are not good for the country's top 10 papers by circulation.

Only USA Today and Wall St. Journal boosted circulation -- by 0.01%.
  • The New York Times: -3.58%
  • Los Angeles Times: -5.20%
  • New York Daily News: -7.16
  • New York Post: -6.25%
  • Washington Post: -1.94
  • Chicago Tribune: -7.25
  • Houston Chronicle: -11.66
  • Newsday: -2.58
The Audit Bureau looked at 507 newspapers, and the average circulation drop was 4.6%.

Sunday circulation dropped faster than weekday circulation -- which is unusual.

So the question is: when will other papers stop publishing print editions? And if they stop printing hardcopy versions, should we stop calling them papers?

In today's Times (which I read after initially writing this post), David Carr's article, "Mourning Old Media’s Decline," makes an important point:

The paradox of all these announcements is that newspapers and magazines do not have an audience problem — newspaper Web sites are a vital source of news, and growing — but they do have a consumer problem.

Stop and think about where you are reading this column. If you are one of the million or so people who are reading it in a newspaper that landed on your doorstop or that you picked up at the corner, you are in the minority. This same information is available to many more millions on this paper’s Web site, in RSS feeds, on hand-held devices, linked and summarized all over the Web.

“The auto industry and the print industry have essentially the same problem,” said Clay Shirky, the author of “Here Comes Everybody.” “The older customers like the older products and the new customers like the new ones.”
In other words, there's still a need for newspapers -- but the delivery mechanism is outdated. Unfortunately, so to is the business model, which depends on print advertising. But there's no doubt that more papers will join the Christian Science Monitor and will stop printing hardcopy issues. I still think there'll be a demand for print editions for another five years; after that, who knows? But I do believe we still need branded journalism -- at least online.

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