Seattle Post-Intelligencer Ditches Print to Go Digital Only

A lack of buyer interest in the storied Seattle Post-Intelligencer prompted the Hearst Corp. to take things digital. The publishing firm announced today the newspaper will no longer appear in print starting tomorrow, and instead will be available only in digital form. The company also said it plans to build a unit for selling digital advertising on its own properties and partner properties including Yahoo.

The move could portend other similar decisions by newspaper publishers in months to come as the economic recession exacerbates the downturn in newspaper advertising revenue, hastening the transition away from costly print operations.

“It’s a major moment because it’s the first metro paper to flip the switch [to digital only],” said newspaper industry pundit Ken Doctor, media analyst for research and consulting firm Outsell Inc. “They’re well positioned, and for Hearst this is almost a tiny bet,” he continued. “What this gives them is the opportunity to flip the switch from print to digital with an above average regional Web site.”

Rather than simply publishing the print product on the Web, the firm aims to develop a new business model around the site. “ isn’t a newspaper online — it’s an effort to craft a new type of digital business with a robust, community news and information Web site at its core,” noted Hearst Newspapers President Steven Swartz in a company statement.

Last week Hearst said because no buyers expressed an interest in acquiring the paper property, the firm would make an announcement soon regarding future plans, and hinted that an online-only operation with a smaller news staff was being considered.

The firm plans to form what it’s calling a “local digital agency” to sell local ads on the site, in addition to the ad products of partners including Yahoo display ads, Kaango classifieds, and search ads from Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Hearst did not respond to ClickZ’s requests to comment on the agency plans or broader digital strategy.

As an original member of Yahoo’s newspaper consortium, Hearst was among the first of the group of large newspaper publishers to integrate Yahoo’s HotJobs recruitment classifieds across its sites, and distribute its own job ads in the HotJobs database. In 2007, Hearst said it would build a sales force devoted to selling Yahoo’s HotJobs ads. Many of Yahoo’s newspaper consortium partners also sell Yahoo display ad inventory to local advertisers.

“There’s certainly the need for some type of evolution as a business model, and I think [Seattle] is a particularly interesting market to do that in,” said quadrantOne CEO Andy Ellenthal, suggesting Seattle’s Web savvy residents coupled with its size make it of particular interest. The quadrantOne ad network, which sells inventory to national advertisers, includes mainly local TV station and newspaper sites including

Hearst owns 15 daily and 49 weekly papers such as Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; The Seattle P-I transition to digital only could serve as a test bed for other larger regional papers, including other Hearst properties. According to Doctor, the publisher should consider branching out to include other non-Hearst regional Web sites in its own network. “If they can do that then they’re bringing a different kind of capital to it,” he said.

“It could be that lab where we can watch what happens, especially if they embrace this philosophy of local regional aggregation both for traffic and advertising,” added Doctor.

Hearst said will feature new columns, 150 reader blogs, community databases, and photo galleries, in addition to providing links to stories across the Web.

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