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It makes some sense: Cut your editorial staff by 80 percent, and there’s at least a decent chance that Web traffic will tumble. And that’s just what has happened at the new online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Page views are down about 20 percent in the week since the newspaper killed its print edition and became an online-only publication, according to internal numbers. Seattlepi.com averaged between 1.3 million and 1.4 million page views a day this week, down from 1.7 million page views a day in January, when the site was able to draw large chunks of content from the print edition. And more than a third of those 1.3 million to 1.4 million hits are from photo galleries and comics. (Disclosure: I worked at the P-I until the very end.)
Clearly, the P-I‘s online experiment is still in the early days, but the company itself has fanned heady expectations: A day after the new Seattlepi.com launched, Hearst Spokesman Paul Luthringer told the Associated Press that the company was encouraged by the website’s traffic on its first day, when it got 1.9 million page views. The dirty little secret: a good chunk of that traffic probably went to content created by staffers who had already left.
As you may remember, in ceasing publication of the paper’s print edition, Seattle P-I owner Hearst Corp. laid off 160 of its employees, including most of its long-time beat reporters, and replaced them with 20 full-time “news gatherers,” who write on a myriad of topics. The site now depends heavily on local AP stories and to a lesser extent on third-party sites it links to for content. According to one report, Hearst expected that traffic would drop between 25 percent and 30 percent initially, before increasing within three months, though the company hasn’t offered such figures publicly.
Luthringer did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment today.
Update: Luthringer writes in an e-mail, “Traffic remains encouraging and continues to track above plan.”