Yesterday’s announcement that the Christian Science Monitor would eliminate its daily print edition in favor of a primarily web-based outfit was met with a shiver from many in the industry. But while the demise of the daily print edition (a weekend edition will still be printed) is a cause for pause, CSM’s transition to web-only could provide some insight on how the industry as a whole can make the switch.
I stress SOME insight. While CSM is considered a newspaper, there are many parts of its business model that made it different from a traditional daily newspaper. And, from the initial readings, those factors are the catalyst for the transition.
For example, CSM is a national daily that is delivered via mail. As a result, its content was less focused on event news and more on analytical and enterprise pieces. In effect, the stories were more like a news magazine such as Time or Newsweek.
As a result, the readership was more niche than general interest. Although national, it’s circulation never far above the 200,000 average it enjoyed in its heyday. A far, far cry from Wall Street Journal or USA Today. More recent numbers have it at around 50,000, which makes it an even more expensive product to produce on a regular basis, given the resources and delivery methods it incorporates.
Unless significant changes are made to the vision and mission of CSM, I could see its web presence becoming less of an electronic newspaper and more of an analytical e-zine — much like a Slate without the punditry. With its continued financial and moral support from the Church of Christ, Scientist, CSM online could easily weather early revenue losses to develop a voice and audience over time.
I certainly hope a journalism think-tank such as API or Poynter watches closely — or even documents — what CSM does to make the transition. There will certainly be opportunities and mistakes taken along the way, and some of the lessons learned could provide valuable for other organizations looking to develop a web-print synergy — or make a similar transition to web-only.
There will be lessons learns and valuable advice. What there won’t be is a “one-size-fits-all” solution for newspapers.