When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer folded its print edition last month and went online only it became the first major US metropolitan newspaper to make the leap into a solely digital future.
At around the same time, 30 former journalists with another defunct daily, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado, launched a news Web site called INDenverTimes.com and set a goal of attracting 50,000 paying subscribers.
Media analysts around the US pointed to the ventures as potential yardsticks for other struggling US newspapers pondering an Internet-only future as print advertising revenue evaporates and readers turn to the Web for news.
The first indicators came in this week and they were not pretty — missed targets at INDenverTimes.com and declining online readership at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Web site.
INDenverTimes.com announced on Thursday that it had not met its goal of 50,000 paying subscribers and “will not pursue the original business model.”
It did not say how many people agreed to pay for the online news service, which launched on March 16, but reports put the number as low as 3,000.
That didn’t surprise Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism school.
“I didn’t think their plan was realistic to tell you the truth,” Edmonds said. “We’re engaged in this big debate about whether people will pay for online content and I think that for general news content the vast majority of examples to date would indicate ‘no.’”
“There’s actually a fairly long history of local newspaper sites that tried to go pay for a period of time,” he said. “Most of them lost so much traffic and didn’t get much of anything in terms of income from the subscriptions that they went back to free.”
Kevin Preblud, one of the three investors behind INDenverTimes.com, was quoted by the Web site as saying that the startup would “continue to explore alternative business models.”
“We have confidence in the future of online journalism,” he said.
Meanwhile, the first traffic numbers were released this week for SeattlePI.com, the Web site of the Post-Intelligencer, the 146-year-old newspaper which rolled off the presses for the last time on March 17.
SeattlePI.com saw its online readership fall to 1.4 million unique users last month from 1.84 million in February and 1.80 million in January, according to figures from Nielsen Online.
It ranked 32nd last month on the list of top US newspaper Web sites, down from 29th in February and 21st in January.
SeattlePI.com, which has an editorial staff of about 20, down from the print edition’s 150 staffers, also lost ground to a rival Web site operated by the remaining daily newspaper in the northwestern US city, the Seattle Times.
SeattleTimes.com had 1.5 million unique users in February but saw its traffic increase to 2.2 million unique users last month, a gain of 70 percent over a year earlier.