Papers w/o Print: Just Another News Site?

This was something I was meaning to include in my newspaper post this morning and neglected to. Sites like InDenverTimes, arising out of the ashes of the Rocky Moutain News, Christian Science Monitor and Seattle PI are online only pubs after the closure of a print newspaper. What’s the outlook for such online newspapers? Not great argues a study written up in the Wall Street Journal:

[The study focused on] Taloussanomat, a financial daily paper in Finland that stopped printing on Dec. 28, 2007 in a cost-cutting move.

According to the report, Taloussanomat, which had a daily circulation of 72,000, lost at least 75% of its revenue as it sacrificed print advertising and subscription fees in the shift. But the more surprising finding concerns its Web traffic.

Initially after becoming an online-only operation, Taloussanomat.fi saw an uptick in traffic, but after five months, unique visits and page views fell by 22% and 11%, respectively, compared with the week before it ended its print edition. Although its traffic recovered by the fall, the report attributes the gains to reader interest in the global financial crisis.

What this suggests is that there’s a critical “synergy” (perhaps a candidate for banishment) between the print and online editions. If print is lost then the online only pub becomes just one among many sources of information. There’s a loss of brand equity and possibly even credibility (though I’m speculating).

This single study shouldn’t be seen as definitive, but it’s quite interesting data for the discussion of whether newspapers can survive, let alone thrive, if they go online only.

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Update:¬†Serendipitously, here’s further evidence of how online news sites suffer without a print companion publication:

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which published its last edition on March 17, was knocked off the list of top 30 newspaper Web sites in March, according to the latest figures form Nielsen Online.

Seattlepi.com fell to No. 32 with 1.4 million unique users, down 23 percent compared to March 2008. In February, the site was ahead of its then-joint operating agreement sister The Seattle Times. Seattlepi.com had 1.8 million uniques, while the Seattle Times had 1.5 million in February.

The Seattle Times picked up online readers as well. In March, the site recorded year-over-year growth of 70 percent to 2.2 million uniques.

Online-only newspaper readership is still very low in the United States. According to Scarborough Research, the number of adults who have read newspapers online-only during the week is 4 percent. Scarborough measures the top 81 markets in the U.S. but they said it was a fairly close approximately to national online-only-readership.

Update II: Both Seattle papers/sites dispute the accuracy of the Nielsen numbers.

3 Responses to “Papers w/o Print: Just Another News Site?”

  1. Joe Mescher Says:

    I’d venture to say the printed product (Brand Awareness) is what drives usage of the online product in the first place.

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