Every day on my way to work, I pick up the three free daily newspapers that are distributed in San Francisco, and once a week I grab the two (also free weeklies). Even though I can get the San Francisco Chronicle for a quarter at the BART station, it's the rare occasion when I actually decide to plunk down the twenty-five cents. Instead, I usually surf SF Gate
and skim the online version of the publication. As Jon Fine at Business Week
points out, I'm not the only one.
Killing printrequires acknowledging not just that the old mode is dead but also that the future means less revenue and shrunken staffs. This is why it makes sense soonest at a money-losing newspaper already grappling with those realities, and one in a major city that generates enough local ad dollars to support a sizable online business. On paper, San Francisco is perfect: a Web-centric town, a cash-drain daily, and private ownership. Which does not mean this will happen. San Francisco is the ancestral home of the Hearst empire, the birthplace of William Randolph Hearst and the town where he ran his first paper. It could be hard for Hearst to consider the move on those grounds alone. (In Asher's deposition, though, he said Hearst briefly considered selling the Chronicle in 2005.)
He goes on to explain that the Chronicle has 265,000 subscribers, and though that number isn't massive, it's important to keep in mind that there are less than 800,000 people in San Francisco so quite a few people still rely on that daily paper coming to their door. Beyond the old-fashion appeal to the printed word, San Francisco is a city filled with commuters, like me, who rely on public transportation and seize that opportunity to read their daily paper. Perhaps municipal wi-fi and better
will lead to commuters surfing instead of thumbing through the paper, but as I look around I see far more papers than Palm's and don't expect things to change anytime soon.
Jon Fine suggests that San Francisco might be the best city to move to a paperless platform, but I disagree. I don't want to put myself in a position of suggesting what print edition should die first (and we all know it's coming eventually), but it seems to me that despite the tech-centric lifestyle of San Franciscan's the first paper to go web exclusive really should serve a metropolitan area whose commuters generally travel by
and not train or bus. That rules out New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington DC....