Poynter Media Business Analyst Rick Edmonds questions the growing movement of print papers to online-only, saying that moving readers to a publication's online version may not work while papers close or stop printing on some days of the week. He suggests that the daily print edition actually promotes the online edition and vice versa. "Maybe that better pumps up Web traffic than trying to force-feed the print audience an online substitute," he wrote.
Edmonds said that people have made big assumptions believing that when a publication moves online it will cut costs and the readers will start using their online version. "However, as we learned as young reporters, assumption is the mother of all screw-ups, and I'm beginning to question whether that migration is a given," he wrote.
Edmonds refers to a study done by City University of London researches on a Finnish financial daily, Taloussanomat, that switched to online-only at the end of 2007. The paper lost 75 percent of revenue and subscriptions and saw no sustained increase in web traffic.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Christian Science Monitor have both gone online only, but are not seeing much growth. The P-I found its page views down 23 percent in the first month after the print edition closed. However, this may be due to the fact they reduced content while they update features. The CSM finds itself stuck with very little growth in views.
Other papers that were launched by laid off journalists such as InDenverTimes.com are also experiencing some difficulty in finding sustainable readership.
Pew's State of the News Media 2009 surveyed what people watched/read "yesterday" to determine what mediums were most popular starting middle of 2008. They found that only 5 percent of Americans reported reading both the print and online editions of a given newspaper. 9 percent reported reading online only and 25 percent reported reading the print edition only.
Nevertheless, another Pew study found that the Internet has overtaken print and will soon even take over television. However this study includes all web sites and not only news sites.
Finallly, Edmonds also refers to the USC Annenberg's Center for the Digital Future study released last week which stated that 22 percent of users have stopped their subscriptions to their newspapers or magazines because the same content was free online.
So online news sites are definitely used and growing. However the question is whether online news sites can survive without their print versions to support them and "advertise" for them, ironically in a time when advertising revenue falls. Edmonds makes the point that both media can feed off each other in a symbiotic relationship.