Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Christian Science Monitor to cease daily publication

In what's likely to be the first of a wave of fundamental restructurings in the newspaper industry, The Christian Science Monitor announced today that it will cease publication of its daily newspaper by April of next year. According to Online Media Daily, the newspaper will shift to a weekly print edition, along with a continuously updated version of its website, CSMonitor.com, and a daily electronic subscription product. There's been an ongoing debate within the Christian Science church over whether or not to keep the newspaper alive, and this strategy appears to be a compromise that will keep the Christian Science Monitor in business by shifting daily coverage to the web and dramatically decreasing costs.

Weekly newspapers are about the only bright spot in the newspaper industry, and moving from a daily to a weekly will help the Christian Science Monitor capitalize on this trend. I think that this is likely the model that many newspapers will follow--daily coverage on the web and a weekly print version. Whether that will save enough money to keep hundreds of newspapers from failing is anyone's guess, however, especially with advertisers pulling back across the board, including online.

It seems likely to me that in many markets, the job of providing daily local coverage will fall to the websites of television stations, not newspapers. The local newspapers in those markets will either have to survive as weekly lifestyle-oriented publications, or not survive at all. The strategy pursued by The Christian Science Monitor will work best for the national or quasi-national newspapers, such as The Wall Street Journal, New York Times or Washington Post.

In any case, we're witnessing the start of the final transition of print newspapers to electronic distribution, or to history.

Update: According to Advertising Age, only two of the top 25 U.S. newspapers gained circulation in statistics from the Audit Bureau of Circulation for a year-to-year six month period ending September 30th. Those two are USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, and the gains were 0.01% in both cases. Some of the other changes were The New York Times down 3.6%, the Los Angeles Times down 5.2%, The New York Post down 6.3%, the New York Daily News down 7.2%, the Chicago Tribune down 7.8% and the Houston Chronicle down 11.7%. Overall, daily circulation declined 4.64%, and Sunday circulation dropped 4.85%. In both cases, the overall rate of decline increased from the year-ago rate, which was 2.6% for dailies and 3.5% for Sunday. Not an encouraging trend.

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