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"Basically, most American newspapers make almost half of all their money from the Sunday paper, especially the ad revenue," Rosenstiel said. "So if the readers could get used to the idea of a one-day-a-week print paper and a six-day-a-week online paper, that model would be acceptable to readers. That's a model that makes some economic sense. You cut your costs — delivery and printing costs all through the week — and you're still able to generate significant advertising revenue from print on Sunday. But the reason I think that's only a theoretical idea at this point is we don't know if the Sunday paper would survive without all those other days. Would people still want to read a Sunday paper in print if they fell out of the habit of having a print product all those other days? Or would going to six days a week online and Sunday for print just destroy your readership base entirely?"
Ultimately what we may find with newspapers is a "to each his own" approach. What may work for a newspaper in one city might not work for a paper in another city. But if you look at what's happened with the papers in Denver, Seattle and Detroit, what they all have in common is that they were in two-newspaper towns, meaning for decades their cities published two competing daily newspapers. In Denver, The Denver Post, and in Seattle, The Seattle Times, are proving to be resilient now that they're the sole daily papers in their cities. Perhaps this will bode well for one-newspaper town Charlotte.
In its recently released second-quarter 2010 earnings report, McClatchy's ad revenue decreased by 8 percent for the April-June period, its lowest rate of decrease in more than three years. Perhaps it's a sign that the hemorrhaging is nearing an end.
Caulkins insists that the Observer continues to have a healthy product.
"People have a misconception about our base of print customers," she said. "We still have a very large base of print customers, so it's not that we don't have those people left. We still have those people, and we have a nice advertising business in the print publication as a result of that good circulation. But what we have to do simultaneously is also develop an aggressive online business at one time."
In one example of that online business potential, in late June, McClatchy signed a national agreement with Groupon, an increasingly popular shopping website that offers discounts from businesses in local markets, to distribute exclusive content to its newspaper websites in 28 markets. Visitors to those websites will see Groupon deals not available on Groupon.com.
As for how much business and revenue newspapers will be able to generate online, that remains to be seen; but what we do know for now is that the activity is there. Facebook just surpassed the 500-million mark in number of users. Nearly one million of those are adults living within 50 miles of Charlotte. Many of those are Observer readers.
And some are former staff.
"... When I left in June 2008, I immediately got on Facebook and saw all these people I knew from working at the Observer ... Because that's how I stay in contact with all those folks," said former clerk/reporter Johnson. "I still do keep in contact with a lot of folks from the Observer ... what we miss are the people and the environment — before the business climate changed."