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How perform newspapers without paper?
March 2, 2011 12:06 PM   Subscribe

The Christian Science Monitor is a well-reputed newspaper. In October 2008 it announced that it would convert its daily printed report to a weekly edition, and decided to focus primarily on its web site. Traffic rise, money don't.

Only the paper edition is economically successful:

A year after the change, Yemma said monthly unique users are up 64% to 5.3 million, with monthly page views up 87% to 14.5 million, as of March 2010.
He also said the circulation for the paid weekly print edition is up from 43,000 at its launch to 77,000 today.
"That is a 79% growth and we are getting great reader reaction to it," Yemma said. He said overall revenue for the Monitor since the switch to Web-only has been higher than expected, $4.3 million.
But one drawback, the online ad revenue has been lower than expected, Yemma admitted. The Web ad revenue had been expected to come in at about $870,000 for the past 12 months, but is only at $490,000.


So, is web only the future of newspapers? CSMonitor's editor John Yemma say so:

Even though print still makes the bulk of the money?
In fact, that's true of the moment. And it's certainly true with most newspapers. But it's clear that the future is digital. That doesn't mean that you won't have print. It just means that you either lower the frequency of print -- which is what we did -- or you do what the Globe and the Houston Chronicle and others have done, which is to decrease your print footprint... down into your core readership areas, so that your supply chain and distribution chain is much cheaper. And then you raise your subscription rates -- which all of the big companies have done. So that's an attempt to keep print viable.
But you're talking about a generational transition. Anybody who's under 30 is a digital native and they don't have the print habit. They might like an occasional New Yorker or Wired that they buy at Barnes and Noble, but subscriptions -- not so much. So it's clear where the future is going, and that's to some sort of a digital model. And so you have to have a multi-platform strategy, which every news organization to some extent has. But the question is where you put the emphasis in that multi-platform strategy. Our emphasis is on Web-first, because we think we're building for the future in doing that -- but we're still producing a very strong print product, and it's doubled in circulation since we launched last April.
posted by - (29 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Anybody who's under 30 is a digital native and they don't have the print habit.

Maybe I'm just not far enough under 30, but this doesn't seem to be true for me or for the people I know.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:20 PM on March 2, 2011


To elaborate on my comment, I work at a university and they've been having the same debate about print versus electronic, and ways to capture a younger audience.

I've found that the people using the term "digital native" tend to be far above the age of thirty, and generally about 5-10 years late on picking up what the youth actually like.

I'm highly suspicious of any established adult making claims about what the younger generation does or does not like.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:21 PM on March 2, 2011 [8 favorites]


That's the point, all digital approach seems more ideological than fact grounded, because its go against all present evidence.
posted by - at 12:26 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Saying there is no one with a print habit is obviously over broad, but the trend away is clear.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:32 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm highly suspicious of any established adult making claims about what the younger generation does or does not like.

There are days when Twitter seems to be entirely populated by forty-year-old journalists, desperately trying to find out what Youth is up to.
posted by steambadger at 12:34 PM on March 2, 2011 [10 favorites]


About 12 years ago, I had an interesting conversation with a newspaper writer. He told me that as more immediate news had become available, the old wisdom of frontloading newspaper stories had started to go away. The newspaper, he told me, was becoming a place where you look for the nuanced story, after you've heard the headline all day.

I like that idea a lot, and I think it's really embodied in what the Monitor has done historically. CNN.com is coffee-break reading, the Monitor is after-dinner-with-a-glass-of-wine reading. But now, that seems to be shifting. The web format has led to shorter, faster stories. They're still better than most of what's out there, but they're changing.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:37 PM on March 2, 2011 [8 favorites]


There are days when Twitter seems to be entirely populated by forty-year-old journalists, desperately trying to find out what Youth is up to.

I've concluded that Twitter is

- 10% celebrities stroking their ego
- 60% journalists trying to be hip
- 30% signed up, forgot about it

But then, I also think that the only people actually watching Jersey Shore are SNL writers. Journalists--bless their hearts--think the rest of us are watching it and they desperately want to be cool, hence the constant references to what I presume is a steaming pile of videoshit.
posted by General Tonic at 12:43 PM on March 2, 2011


There are days when Twitter seems to be entirely populated by forty-year-old journalists, desperately trying to find out what Youth is up to.

In a year or two, journalists will have forgotten about Twitter, have daily updates from /b/, all the while the youth are off playing somewhere new.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:45 PM on March 2, 2011


A few blacksmiths sold horseless carriages in the beginning. They made more more money off of their horse services and those pesky cars but over time, that changed.

I used to buy and read print newspapers. Sunday morning was defined by reading the NY Times. When NYTimes.com came along I found the papers were staying in their blue plastic bags. I've not looked back. And yes, I'll probably pay for the electronic edition of the Times when the paywall goes up if the content is good and the price is fair.

I'm well above the 30 "digital native" but I've been digital native for quite a while. The only time I see paper newspaper is when I'm traveling and I get one free at my hotel room door (and sometimes the rental car, and the airplane).

In addition to competing with free, print media has to compete with what it has had to since the radio was invented...time. Before the internet came along, print was doing those nuanced articles but also the wire stories.

In addition to threat of TV and internet, USA Today came along and dumbed down newspapers even more. So now many large city newspapers follow that model and instead of selling their strengths, give people like me another reason not to subscribe.

I think a successful hybrid strategy is to go big online with immediacy and use the print version for longer, researched, articles with less of a deadline feeling. But that isn't happening. Instead of investing in humans to write those stories, they get laid off. So you're stuck with same news, days later. Why pay for a paper tomorrow if it is just the same wire stories I read online yesterday?

Big city and national newspapers will survive in some format for the foreseeable future. But you look at smaller market newspapers and them trying to be relevant with comments and social media links. Thank god there's browser extensions to hide that shit. I don't care what my illiterate racist neighbors think.

The internet as a medium isn't going away. But many publishers are still thinking in terms of traditional print economics and failing big time. Print is not alone... the music and film industry are living in the past too.

I hate to say this, but I think the News Corp will figure this whole thing out before the other print rags.
posted by birdherder at 12:47 PM on March 2, 2011


There are days when Twitter seems to be entirely populated by forty-year-old journalists, desperately trying to find out what Youth is up to.

Sounds like you hacked my Twitter feed.

For the record, I'm a not-quite-40-year-old journalist, and I can tell you the anxiety in the profession is palpable. It's actually the folks just a little older than me who seem the most panicked, in my experience, because they started their careers in the '80s, a boom time before the first of the three great media bloodlettings of our time. (1. Early '90s recession, 2. first wave of digital impact in the late '90s, 3. today's full-scale epic business model fail.)

These are the folks who got used to staff writing gigs and good steady pay and fat expense accounts in the early years of their careers, and they've been clinging to their sainted perches as the subsequent generations have either carved out tougher and more winding career paths or veered off entirely into digital media. The clearheaded among them know there's nothing firm left beneath their feet, so they're rushing to build themselves "platforms" out of whatever they can gather in the Twitfaceblogosphere.

Not sure how it'll shake out. For what it's worth, as someone who made what rep he has on longform narrative in magazines, the rise of the tablet's the most promising thing I've seen in a good long while. If you write well at say 4,000 to 10,000 words, the landscape's been pretty barren for a long time. Projects like The Atavist seem like they just might be able to carve out a niche for those big meaty stories about things you didn't know you were interested in as the traditional magazine continues its spasmodic hike into the sunset.

Time'll tell. Meantime, follow me on Twitter!

*chokes back self-loathing bile*

*returns to edits on 1,500 word "feature" written at 1970s pay scale*
posted by gompa at 12:59 PM on March 2, 2011 [8 favorites]


Oh, and back on the topic of the FPP, the Christian Science Monitor has been one of the best outlets anywhere at covering my beat, the cleantech/green-collar boom. Several times as vital as the NY Times, for example, though the Times is now playing not-half-bad catch-up on its Green blog. I wish the CSM well and hope they can crack this thing, and they seem smarter than the average hibernating bear so they've got as good a shot as any of the old guard. Is my point.
posted by gompa at 1:03 PM on March 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I hate to say this, but I think the News Corp will figure this whole thing out before the other print rags.

I agree. The Daily, for all its content faults (GOP bullshit) and its handful of technical issues (nothing to look at while it takes upwards of fifteen minutes to load an issue), is exactly on target for the future of delivered news (AKA "The Press"). If the New York Times or some comparable paper was to execute something nearly identical (oh wait, they almost do) and the subscription price was reasonable (as it stands, I don't think that current digital subscription prices are reasonable, but this is after all Stage One), I'd gladly pay for such a thing.
posted by grubi at 1:08 PM on March 2, 2011


I have nothing to add to all these comments but to say that one can in the short term look to see what papers have moved to digital and stay with print too and are doing ok; and which ones try this are are failing. Then try to figure out why some work and others do not.
The Economist and The Wall St Journal both do digital and print and are doing very well overall...
posted by Postroad at 1:27 PM on March 2, 2011


I'll be the digital curmudgeon here.

I just don't care enough to support failed business models. I recognize that the reporting of the NYT or the CSM is superior to that of the blogs and news.google.com, yet I can read between the lines, I can follow-up on interesting stories which have far more in-depth information than any mainstream media outlet would have (currently).

Regardless, that's what I read. I have no incentive to pay a dime for pay sites, which are trivially easy to read without paying anything, and rarely add a single piece of information to that which I've already read.

I'm not a kid, I'm in my 40s. I know about bias, and not-reporters trying to be reporters, yet I find that I prefer the rawer sources. I have no positive spin to put on it, I think that even major organizations like CS (to which I used to subscribe) and NYT are doomed. That is, unless they can actually come up with real news and real analysis that I can't get anywhere else. I'd be ridiculously happy if they figure out how to do that, but I doubt it will happen.

My recommendations:
1) Don't have *anything* but summaries publicly available
2) Quit the "both sides are equally worthy" crap. In many cases, one side is obviously lying, state it and say why.
3) Do lots more actual research. That's what's missing from blogs and raw stories.
4) Stop letting partisans control the language.
posted by Invoke at 1:37 PM on March 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


It was necessary for the iPad to be invented before I could embrace all-digital.

Even still, things are a bit of a mess. I have been converting all of my magazine subscriptions to digital-only. It's a mishmash of standalone apps, subscriptions through other apps (Kindle, Zinio, etc), and even straight document downloads (PDF, etc). Behavior is far from consistent, even in the same app (some Zinio magazines have the ability to read pages in a Readablility-style text-only view, while other magazines maddeningly lack this).

Still, when it gets right down to it, I'm downloading my weekly issue of The Economist the day it comes out, and have usually read a large portion of it before my print copy even bothers to show up in my mailbox.

Print is dead to me. Now the industry just needs to figure out how to keep making digital better.
posted by legion at 1:44 PM on March 2, 2011


I have been noticing the efforts of the Christian Science Monitor with interest, as they are journalistically far better/more accurate/more detailed and firsthand in their reporting than just about every other major paper in the country... including the NY TImes. They strike me as a very smartly run organization.

"The Web ad revenue had been expected to come in at about $870,000 for the past 12 months, but is only at $490,000."

This is perfectly understandable, as it reflects the reality of the economic downturn versus prior revenue projections.

In this kind of economy, there are dual pressures on advertising revenue:
- Fewer customers buying ads.
- Downward pressure on ad prices, due to decreased demand and increased need to make existing customers happy.

As such, ad sales tend to be not only more sporadic, but the deals tend to be better for the clients. This can be absolutely devastating to internet companies that rely on advertising, and was a major cause of the first dotcom crash, where a relatively minor economic downturn caused much of a whole sector to be wiped out. Non-profitable pre-IPOs with bloated budgets and shaky business plans had to turn to their venture capital investors for additional rounds of investment that their financials simply didn't justify. Not only did their ad sales decline, but there was also a huge glut of poor quality, non-focused "punch the monkey" ad space out there that simply wasn't worth anything worth mentioning... unsupported by its ability to attract real customers, and by adequate viewership and response levels to justify their ad rates.

That's not the case today, at least on the same level. Online advertisers focus their ad sales far more cleverly and accurately to their customers, for one thing.

"He also said the circulation for the paid weekly print edition is up from 43,000 at its launch to 77,000 today. "That is a 79% growth and we are getting great reader reaction to it..."

And a huge reason the print paper is selling well is because of all the well-deserved attention they have garnered online. (It's not as though they're suddenly doing great business and garnering attention in the newspaper stands, is it?!)

What this shows, basically, is that their online focus, combined with good journalism, is paying dividends across the board. It also highlights the value of revenue diversification, as multiple revenue streams tend to decrease the level of vulnerability to economic downturns. This explains, in large part, why papers like the Wall Street Journal have relied on both ad sales and paid accounts, although I would argue that it's extremely valuable to have free, high-quality ad-supported content *and* paid content, in that context.

"That's the point, all digital approach seems more ideological than fact grounded, because its go against all present evidence."

I would argue that it doesn't go against all the evidence at all. They are seeing significant growth online, with monthly unique users are up 64% to 5.3 million, and monthly page views up 87% to 14.5 million.

What it *does* indicate is that print isn't entirely dead yet, and that CSM's online business hasn't had sufficient time and a good enough economic environment to achieve profitability... yet.

But does anyone seriously doubt that they aren't on track to getting there, and being quite profitable?!

As "dead wood" papers gradually fade away as a popular choice for customers, the CSM will be in a good position to convert customers over to all-digital, and will be able to reduce their overhead significantly and profitability-per-customer as a result.

Scalability and low overhead will create a lot of winners when it comes to the future of online news. It's part of the reason why HuffPo was able to turn their web-only news into $315M recently. However, the big winners will be the ones who focus on the all -digital future early, as they will be the ones with the eyeballs... even as numerous dead wood papers shrivel and die.

Evolve or die. That is what we're really seeing here.
posted by markkraft at 2:07 PM on March 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's hard to wrap fish or line a birdcage with an Ipad.
posted by ahimsakid at 2:21 PM on March 2, 2011


Local news, that's what is still mostly missing online. Imagine if Craigslist had high quality local news attached too. (You owe me a million dollars if you steal this idea)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:29 PM on March 2, 2011


It's hard to wrap fish or line a birdcage with an Ipad.

delmoi would disagree.

I keed, I keed
posted by grubi at 2:34 PM on March 2, 2011


"Local news, that's what is still mostly missing online."

It's also a much harder nut to crack, from a business model perspective. It's doable, but harder to profit from.... or justify as many jobs / a high salary for.

Given that online sites can target content to you based on which city you live in, it's entirely likely that the online future for local news will be increasingly delivered by large news hubs, such as HuffPo, NY Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. Expect them to start targeting their readers with more custom localized content.

The question, really, is who are they going to partner with to get that content from. Freelancers... or existing local media outlets?

In many ways, local television stations are a more desirable, economically viable partner for local news than local newspapers. The local papers would become the competitors of the larger hubs, really. They'd want to eat their lunch.

This could actually be good news for local free weeklies out there... but it's not very promising news for the smalltown newspaper, unless they really establish themselves online first. Perhaps *they* need to be the ones to turn the tables, offering access to someone else's national news?!
posted by markkraft at 2:53 PM on March 2, 2011


"Local news, that's what is still mostly missing online."

It's also a much harder nut to crack, from a business model perspective. It's doable, but harder to profit from.... or justify as many jobs / a high salary for.


The School of Journalism at Mizzou has tried to combine this with crowdsourced reporting with MyMissourian. They started it as an experiment back when I was there, and five years later, that's all it is: an interesting experiment. The truth is, nobody knows how to monetize the new model of news delivery; it's still not clear what the new model of news delivery is.
posted by Rangeboy at 3:21 PM on March 2, 2011


Hi, I'm a young person. I was surprised to learn that the Christian Science Monitor was closing in 2008, and went to their website to learn if I could subscribe to their content and help create a sort of tip-jar journalism. However, they were only offering subscriptions to the print edition, which I don't need. So I gave up.

I'm glad I did, because I haven't seen any stories broken by them over the past three years; they now seem more intent on gathering Google hits off of stories in the news or even writing articles about Google's logo changes. I feel sorry for the journalist who learned he or she was going to work at the CSM and ended up doing that job. Anyway, that sort of stuff will get you eyeballs for a few seconds, but they won't care about who's supplying the information.
posted by shii at 3:42 PM on March 2, 2011


You people realize that the CSM is backed by a cult that makes Scientology look almost sane by comparison?
posted by Yakuman at 4:49 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


You people realize that the CSM is backed by a cult that makes Scientology look almost sane by comparison?

They killed Jim Henson!
posted by Faze at 5:05 PM on March 2, 2011


Anybody who's under 30 is a digital native and they don't have the print habit.


I'm 25, and I read paper newspapers for a very specific reason. I usually eat lunch and dinner alone. I don't cook, so I eat out at cheap restaurants. I need to read something - either a newspaper or a paperback book - or I feel lonely. I can read MeFi on my phone but it's neater to just read newspaper.

If i find an article i like a take a photo of the headline, load it up online, and share it here or on Facebook.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:43 PM on March 2, 2011


I see two big advantages to print media.

1.) I can read them on the subway or while waiting for the subway.
2.) I can do my crosswords the way God and Will Shortz intended.

Everything else is an advantage for digital, though, sure.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:05 PM on March 2, 2011


It's hard to wrap fish or line a birdcage with an Ipad.

don't you know how to hook up your printer?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:26 PM on March 2, 2011


Doesn't Make: magazine turn good profit on its print edition? AdBusters? Good print media is worth buying.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:20 PM on March 2, 2011


Thanks for pointing that out Zane. As someone who was raised in the religion that denied me even the most basic medical attention and encouraged me to suffer in silence rather than receive the most basic treatment, it has always galled me to hear people gushing about the high quality of journalism at the CSM without acknowledging the pernicious nature of the
organization behind it.
posted by gallois at 12:57 AM on March 3, 2011


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