When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased publication in mid-March it continued www.seattlepi.com as a web-only publication. It employs 20 persons, making it one of the largest online staffs of any local Internet news organization.

Although it has a much smaller staff than the print edition did, the site continues to cover local news and sports, provides national and international feeds, and features local bloggers. In many ways it is what many observers have called the future of post-print journalism. It is well recognized that print is an expensive way to convey news, information, and commentary so observers argue that the Internet is the answer for community informational needs because the public is increasingly getting their news there anyway.

It is still early days for forming a definitive view of how dropping print may affect online demand, but the P-I’s situation gives a unique opportunity to observe effects. In February—before the print edition closed—the website had 1.8 million unique visitors. In March, that number dropped to 1.4 million unique visitors. If these initial results hold true over time, it would indicate that print still provides some important reputational and marketing benefits to online activities.

Those interested in the online future of journalism should be watching the Seattle situation with interest in the coming year.


Joakim Ditlev said...

It is a good observation, Mr. Picard.

I am marketing a software-as-a-service that helps publishers transform magazines, papers or other prints to interactive digital versions. We find that a very small share of our customer base is ready to go all-in and abandon their hard copies completely. And in case they do, they are smart enough to change their business model as well, which could be achieved by turning a subscription based printed magazine into a free digital issue with a lot of interactive ads to support revenue generation.

I have not followed the Seattle PI case closely, but browsing around on their website does not offer me anything special. To me it looks like the cost savings achieved from dropping the print version is not used for increasing online readership and ultimately generate more revenue from online advertising. If this is the case, you are absolutely right about your observation. Seattle PI looses a distribution channel and overall awareness, so I would be surprised, if that did not impact overall website visits.

Magazine Publishers of America recently found that overall website traffic of magazine titles rose 11.1 percent in Q4 2008, while the revenue from ads went down. I wrote a piece about it on the Zmags blog. It tells me that demand for good stories are high as ever, but if media do not align their business models to the digital way they may end up in big trouble.

If you are interested in researching more into this area, I would be happy to offer you some more background information.

Joakim Ditlev

Priit Hõbemägi said...

There is a first academic survey on that topic on Finnish online businesspaper Taloussanomat, which dropped the paper version. Verdict - dropping paper means dropping most of online readers as well..