Paper breadcrumbs

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The Telegraph reports that The Guardian is "seriously discussing" the closure of its print operation and focusing wholly on digital. In other words, no more print, only digital content.

Says The Telegraph:

[...] the company has been forced to steadily shrink the Guardian newspaper, getting rid of some of its flagship supplements. GNM [Guardian News and Media, the paper's publisher], has also pledged to axe up to 100 of its 650 editorial staff, but has struggled to find enough people willing to volunteer for its pay-off package.

Last year, GNM also looked at closing the £80m printing plant it opened seven years ago, and moving its Berliner printing presses to Trinity Mirror’s Watford plant. However, it now seems more likely to stop running the presses altogether.

The Guardian was quick to dismiss the report, saying that "the truth is, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, is that The Guardian isn’t about to do any such thing," adding:

[...] In Fleet Street parlance, this could be deemed a flyer – a story you run up the flagpole hoping someone will salute. But no-one will be lifting an arm. It’s just wrong. Plain wrong.

Already, lots of people are weighing in with their views.

Some commenters in the Guardian’s report suggest that the Telegraph got its story from a blog post on More About Advertising yesterday that, broadly, says what the Telegraph does. Neither report names any names, only "sources."

Is there fire that emits this smoke? Whether the specifics of what the Telegraph reports are key to what’s going on at The Guardian, or not, the latter surely are looking hard at their future and the role of digital.

Yesterday. PaidContent reported that The Guardian had hired its first-ever digital strategy director to grow its online business:

[...] German news site Zeit Online‘s editor-in-chief and Audible.de kickstarter Wolfgang Blau will take the role next April, charged with "helping (editorial and commercial teams) to grow global audiences and revenues by developing new digital platforms that deepen reader engagement and provide new opportunities to commercial partners", GNM says.

A GNM spokesperson tells paidContent:

"We have never had a single person in charge of digital strategy. Given the scale of our digital audience (30.2 million monthly uniques, according to the last comScore), it’s clearly time."

GMG CEO Miller (via release):

"His [Wolfgang Blau's] track record for developing robust business models online make him the ideal candidate to help us make the most of the commercial opportunities generated by our huge and highly-engaged audience."

All this at a time when UK mainstream print media is seeing declining circulations (and many also seeing declining revenues from advertising sales).

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I say "almost everywhere" as there are bright spots like the Financial Times which reported in July that digital subscription sales had passed sales of the traditional printed newspaper for the first time.

Just because the FT has passed a memorable milestone, though, doesn’t necessarily suggest that The Guardian’s future lies in digital only. Neither does the advent of digital business magazines such as Quartz, which launched last month, suggest that.

Quartz is digital only – there is no print edition – supported by advertising:

[...] As we build Quartz, we are focused on the touchscreen and mobile devices that increasingly dominate our lives. Our design began with the iPad foremost in mind, and we modified it from there to suit smartphones and, finally, personal computers. Your experience with Quartz should befit the hardware you visit us with and shift as seamlessly as you do from phone to tablet to laptop and back again. Call us a website or, if you like, a web app: Quartz combines the benefits of the free and open Web with the elegance of an application.

Still, you do have to wonder whether such connected events herald an inevitable outcome which includes a traditional printed newspaper (maybe more than one) as a necessary casualty.

[Update Oct 18:] The Associated Press reports that Newsweek magazine plans to end its print publication after 80 years and will shift to an all-digital format aimed at online users starting in early 2013. Newsweek’s last U.S. print edition will be its December 31, 2012, issue.

The announcement of the change was made by Tina Brown, editor-in-chief and founder of The Newsweek Daily Beast Co., on The Daily Beast website Thursday:

"In our judgment, we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format," she said.

Brown said staff cuts are expected, but didn’t give a specific figure. She also said that Newsweek’s editorial and print operations would be streamlined in the U.S. and abroad.

Brown said that the online publication will be called Newsweek Global and will be a single, worldwide edition that requires a paid subscription. It will be available for tablets and online reading, with certain content available on The Daily Beast website.

"We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it," she said.

More detail in The Daily Beast announcement; here’s the concluding paragraph of that announcement:

[...] Exiting print is an extremely difficult moment for all of us who love the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night. But as we head for the 80th anniversary of Newsweek next year we must sustain the journalism that gives the magazine its purpose – and embrace the all-digital future.

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