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Does the Seattle P-I Going 100% Web Signal the End of Newspapers?

As of today the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a 100% online publication, with the final print run of its paper edition already complete. Does this move sound a death knell for physical newspapers?

The Post-Intelligencer has been suffering the woes of the economic crisis, and its revenues from both sales and advertising have fallen so much that the paper had a loss of $14 million last year. It's financial reasons that are at play here, forcing the Hearst Corporation to close the paper's printed edition and making it the largest newspaper in the U.S. to go 100% online. 

The newspaper's website will be run by a staff of 20, versus the 165 who used to work for the printed edition, and it'll aggregate internally-written columns, some local journalistic reporting, and the blog pages of unpaid local writers. Before the move, the site had around 1.8 million unique visitors per month—that figure is surely bound to rise, but certainly won't capture all the paper's former readership at first.

The concern is, of course that the web-based paper won't deliver the same investigative journalism as its physical incarnation (simply due to the staff numbers involved) and that the end of the cost-sharing printing agreement the paper had with its rival the Seattle Times will pull that paper under too, as it bears more of the production costs of a paper edition itself. Valid concerns for Seattleites, certainly.

But does it signal of the end of "traditional" newspaper-style publishing? In Seattle it's possible that the P-I will actually thrive in its new 100% web model. Assuming the paper weathers the current crisis, when the economic situation improves it'll be in the right position to take advantage of better advertising income and hire more staff—moving back into more investigative journalism perhaps. And as a website edition only, the running costs of the paper will be slimmer, meaning greater potential for profit if it's managed properly.

Elsewhere, other newspapers are considering different online-edition models not because they have to, but because it's actually the way of the future. That's thanks to rising web penetration, mobile internet devices like the iPhone and e-readers like the Kindle—and there's also the environmental aspect to think on, with a web-only paper being a far greener prospect. Online editions will have to increasingly compete with the "new technology" media such as news and personal blogs, but they'll have their heritage and names to trade on, and a healthy dose of competition is often a good thing.

So the end of the newspaper probably isn't quite nigh—though the move to all-digital distribution will happen before too long. This "death" of the newspaper has been foretold for ages, of course, but it's only recently that the technology to enable a next-gen version of the news publications has matured. The economic crisis may simply be the catalyst that starts that transformation off. 

[via New York Times]