The only reason to publish an old-fashioned print newspaper in 2008 is because print advertising is more lucrative than Web advertising. Flip through the print edition of the Christian Science Monitor and you will see virtually no advertising. Therefore, the paper’s announcement today that it will switch to a mostly Web model next April makes eminent good sense.
The Monitor’s daily print edition is already little more than rumor. Where would you get one, other than stopping by a Christian Science Reading Room? Yet the Monitor’s Web site is popular enough to attract about 1.5 million visitors a month. (For purposes of comparison, Boston.com, the Globe’s Web site, attracts nearly 4.5 million visitors a month.)
The Monitor’s announcement makes it clear that the paper, founded by Mary Baker Eddy nearly 100 years ago, is in pretty tough financial shape — as is every newspaper operation. What the Monitor has that commercial papers lack is nonprofit ownership that can look at the long term — and pay a subsidy, as new-media consultant Ken Doctor notes, thus providing a vital bridge to the day that online revenues will start to cover the cost of news-gathering.
Those who insist on the printed word will be able to buy a weekly edition, which will allow the Monitor to engage in reverse-publishing — that is, in republishing content that appears online first. That’s what they’re doing in Madison, Wis., where the Capital Times earlier this week dropped its daily print edition and replaced it with two free tabloids filled with material from its Web site.
What’s happening at the Monitor had been long anticipated. If handled properly, it could be a positive development — and another big step in the paper’s (and the industry’s) evolution toward a model of putting the Web first.