Christian Science Monitor quits print edition, switches to online only

And so it begins. The 100 year old newspaper The Christian Science Monitor has announced that it will cease publishing its daily print edition, switching primarily to an online only presence. The paper will publish a weekend print magazine.

The Christian Science Monitor has seen its circulation drop from 220,000 in 1970 to 52,000 today, reports the NY Times. The paper is unique in the print world, being run by a nonprofit organization financed by a church and delivered through the mail.

Despite its name, the paper didn’t have a strong religious agenda (besides one daily religious column) instead reporting on American and world news. During its 100 years in print, the paper has won seven Pulitzer Prizes. The paper maintains 8 foreign bureaus on top of its US based reporting staff.

The decision to switch online was made easier by The Christian Science Monitor’s nonprofit status, but likewise they weren’t the first to make the move, and most definitely won’t be the last. Print is more expensive to maintain than a website, and with the economic crisis contributing to the already increasing decline in newspaper revenues, the CSM will now be remembered as the first of many newspapers of note to dump their print editions in an effort to survive well into the future.

It’s important to note that when we talk about the death of newspapers, we consider primarily the print editions, not necessarily the news gathering organizations behind them. It is conceivable that 10-15% of newspapers (maybe more) will survive well into the future, but as online news providers, not companies that deliver a physical print edition. The smart ones that make the switch early will be better placed then the many papers who ignore the broader trends in the market, and allow their print editions to kill them off.

Update: statement from CSM on the switch here. The switch will take place in April 2009.