Death of print edges closer as Newsweek axed and Guardian’s future in spotlight

Is the Guardian newspaper planning to close its print edition?A big week in the story of ‘Print is Dead’ as Tina Brown axed Newsweek, signalling its online only future, and more speculation about the future of The Guardian in print.

The closure of Newsweek has been on the cards since-owner Barry Diller suggested earlier this year that print could be scaled back in 2013. Newsweek closes in December. Besides Brown has been digitally centric since launching The Daily Beast and combining, under Diller’s IAC/Interactivecorp, with Newsweek two years ago.

Another dispatch from the front-line of ‘Print is Dead’ came about The Guardian and further speculation that it was ‘seriously discussing’ an end to its print edition. This speculation echoed something we ran on The Wall earlier this year: Is the Guardian planning to ditch print for digital future sooner rather than later? It is a rumour that will just not go away.

The latest speculation says that the internal discussions about closing The Guardian and the Observer in print have reached an advanced point and that Guardian News & Media bosses are close to axing the print editions of the two papers.

This is it is said despite the hopes of editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger who is arguing to keep the papers running for several more loss making years until the Guardian’s digital-only US operation has further developed both editorial and commercially.

The speculation on the More About Advertising blog says that the pressure to close the papers is coming from trustees of the Scott Trust, which controls GNM and is dedicated to ensuring the brand survives. That, of course, used to mean the papers, but that story is fast changing.

This year the Guardian has seen losses before tax widened to £63.4m, up 44.7% year on year, and plans 100 jobs cuts although as recently reported it is having trouble finding volunteers. GNM has accepted around 30 editorial applications for voluntary redundancy, significantly less than the 70 to 100 it had earmarked when it opened the scheme in July.

The speculation about the Guardian probably stems from an on going conversation coming out of the paper about its digital future.

Not hard really as this is a major topic of conversation for The Guardian and the industry. Its overriding strategy is Digital First; it recently held its Future of Digital Media event where CEO Andrew Miller among others spoke about the paper’s digital direction; and this week it appointed Wolfgang Blau as director of digital strategy.

The big focus on the US has led to some speculation that the Guardian’s future as an international left of newspaper brand might not necessarily always centre on the UK. Its great rival online, at least, is The New York Times. That paper’s paywall is powering ahead and digital subscriptions were up by 12% as of July.

I’m still convinced as I’ve argued here before that the Guardian will eventually have to put up a paywall. The case for paywalls is growing.

The death of newspapers based is being reassessed 

Earlier this week Douglas Arthur, an analyst at investment bank Evercore Partners said in a Wall Street Journal piece on paywalls that “the market is starting to reassess the death of newspapers based on the success and aggressiveness with which some of the major newspaper brands are implementing digital paywalls”.

He suggested that there is said there was “a kind of recalibration of maybe this is going to work, and maybe this is going to give the industry new life, and maybe people are willing to pay for this”.

For brands like the Guardian losing millions each year it must be worth investigating further as part of that digital first future.

Cutting back on print, not stopping the presses

While I think it is entirely unlikely that the Guardian will cut print in the next two years it might well, as suggested before, cut back on print. Who says newspapers have to print seven days a week? Why not focus on the most profitable days? After all, few people read papers for news anymore. They are for informed opinion and analysis.

Naturally GNM has denied that it intends to stop printing newspapers. As it would as the rumour is almost certainly not true.

But what is true is that the closure of Newsweek is another event that focuses the debate and the minds of those who are having similar thoughts about the future of print.

Newsweek was a major print brand at one time with a history stretching back 80 years, but its future isn’t about print anymore. CEO Baba Shetty has said that future of the magazine “is about taking the essence of Newsweek and saying, what could happen if it was truly liberated from legacy publishing constraints? The move lets us explore that”.

It is that liberation from print and the thinking about it that is going on right now in every media company including The Guardian.