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Newspapers Without Paper

What’s interesting — and for many disturbing — about this kind of story is its not-quite-explicit core assumption. Here are the highlights:

Senior figures at Guardian News & Media are seriously discussing the move to an entirely online operation, it has been claimed, leaving Mr Rusbridger increasingly isolated.

The longstanding Guardian chief wants to develop the Guardian’s digital-only US operation before pulling the plug on the print edition, in the hope that it will provide a useful blueprint for the online business in Britain.

However, trustees of the Scott Trust, GNM’s ultimate owner, fear it does not have enough cash on its books to sustain the newspapers for that long, according to More About Advertising, the website run by former Marketing Week editor Stephen Foster.

The core assumption I refer to? That it’s not a question of whether the Guardian will end its print edition, but only when. But if print is a money-loser — and I keep hearing that is is, for newspaper after newspaper — why not end it now, today, and go purely digital?

Why shouldn’t newspapers around the world, or at least in the most internet-saturated parts of the world, just stop the presses — especially if they know they’ll have to do it anyway, and in the meantime the cash is draining away? What are the restraining factors? Habit and tradition? Powerful executives who have known the print world for so long that they can’t imagine life without it? The half-conscious feeling that paper and ink are real in ways that pixels and bits are not, and that if you only have pixels and bits you might as well be just a blogger, without a saleable product you can hold in your hand?

This inquiring mind really, really wants to know.

UPDATE: In addition to the really smart people weighing in below — if I could have picked people to answer I couldn’t have done much better — Nick Carr weighs in at his place.

SECOND UPDATE: The Guardian says this story is not true: they have no plans to abandon print.

about the author

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.

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