Stop The Presses: ‘Sunset’ For Print In Five Years, FT Sees

For years, even many of us in the online realm had countered digital prophesies of “the death of print” with cautious reservation.

But now – as newsprint costs rise, digital operations grow their importance to publishers and driving delivery trucks around the place begins to seem anachronistic – printing on paper may increasingly look like just another cost that, soon, could be removed from the balance sheet.

The Financial Times is amongst those seriously preparing to switch off printing presses, parent group Pearson’s director of global content standards Madi Solomon told me during a panel at the E-Publishing Innovation Forum in London on Tuesday…

“There’s nothing like a financial crisis to keep a newspaper afloat. They couldn’t be happier because that has elongated what they like to consider their ‘sunset’, the sunset of print.

“They’re investing a lot in their online presence. Yes, they do see the end of print. That pink broadsheet has such fond memories for so many people that I don’t think they’ll completely stop printing, but they will certainly pull back – in fact, they’re already pulling back.” There is tactical retreat from printing in certain geographies.

Solomon says the FT is committing to “less print” and says the FT sees a five-year trajectory for having exited print in substantial part. “They’re not saying that, by five years, they’ll completely stop it, but they do see that the sunset is going to be in about five years for them.”

Pearson (NYSE: PSO) is “scrambling” to service a large-scale switching from print to digital, Solomon said, especially in its core education segment, where states like California and Singapore have committed to transition education away from text books, she said.

Five years? Here’s the calendar some other publishers are betting on…

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has always said the title’s current print factory will be its last ever; he reckoned it would run for 20 years from its 2005 inception. “I think that might be telescoping quite dramatically now,” he said last week.

— London’s Times editor John Witherow agrees his print plant, built in 2008, will be the last: “They were supposed to last 30 or 40 years. Things are speeding up now.” He anticipates a print withdrawal in more “considerable time”.

— The Seattle Post Intelligencer, following eight years of losses, already abandoned printing its newspaper in March 2009, and instead now operates a radically slimmed-down website alone.

— It was joined by the Christian Science Monitor, which, after chronic circulation decline, dropped its print edition to publish online only one month later

— “If cheap, flexible screen technology really takes off, then I do think print’s years are numbered,” B2B publisher Incisive Media’s online commercial head Jon Bentley told the E-Publishing Innovation Forum event…

— Though associate director Daniel Pollock said “rumours of print’s death have been greatly exaggerated” and reckoned the science journal will be printing for “a generation or two to come” – “It will shift from the majority medium to one of several minority media.”

» Update: Pearson now denies the strategy Solomon referred to – see our follow-up.

So, what date is your diary showing for paper’s last rites… ?