Christian Science Monitor moves almost entirely online

Why won't other major papers do the same?

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One of the veritable stalwarts of American print journalism is finally doing what I’m surprised has taken so long to happen in the industry — it’s shutting down its daily printing presses in favor of going almost entirely online.

Effective April 2009, the Christian Science Monitor announced today that it would cease daily publication in the traditional dead tree format.  It’s only remaining print product will be a single weekend edition.

The Monitor, according to the Associated Press, has suffered from a diminishing print readership, while attaining 5 million page views per month.

I know that the Monitor is still a well-respected paper, but honestly, I don’t know anyone who reads it regularly (except for maybe a few journalism professors), and so it seems  that this is the way to go if they want to survive.

As Andie Tucher, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, told the AP, the Monitor is usually a second-read analysis newspaper, not a must-read:

“That’s the real crisis for papers like this,” she said. “Rather than reading that as my second or third paper, I now go online and browse Slate and Salon and the political sites, and I can read any other paper I like. It becomes much less urgent to indulge in the Christian Science Monitor.”

Further, I don’t know any of my peers in the 18-35 demographic who subscribe to a print newspaper on a daily basis, but I would argue that most of my friends are better informed as they keep up with the world online on a more constant basis.

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This trend has already started in the tech trade mag world — Infoworld shut its doors in print in March 2007 — and I’m guessing that it won’t be that long before other major papers follow suit. Because of trends like this, I’d gladly bet that within the next decade  major papers like the New York Times will cease to exist as a daily print newspaper. Last week, Moody’s said that it may cut the rating of the New York Times Co. into junk territory as its revenue rapidly slides downward. While the company as a whole got hit by a 51.4 percent decline in third-quarter profit, the company’s Internet revenue continued to rise (albeit at a slower rate), up 6.7 percent from $79.7 million of Q3 2007 to $85.1 in Q3 2008.

Yes, I get that a newspaper is more foldable and portable than reading electronically — and yes, you can lose it on a train without worrying about it — but honestly, how much longer can any newspaper executive justify the huge operating expense of printing and distributing the printed page?

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