We had to beat down a rumor a couple of years ago that The News-Sentinel had "a plan" to give up the paper product and go online only. It didn't make sense for any newspaper then, and it doesn't make sense for most now -- the online revenue stream isn't there yet. But we're probably getting to the point where it will make sense for some papers. Here's the biggest name so far to go online only:
The Christian Science Monitor is turning off its press and going fully online. I heard about this at my conference on new business models for news last week and said it makes perfect sense. The Monitor is a powerful and respected brand that already serves an international audience. I hadn't looked at it on paper in decades but I've read its stories online. Paper was a drag.
Actually, as a commenter points out, the Monitor isn't going totally paperless. It's goiing to have a weekly magazine-type product for analysis and use the Web for its daily coverage. This has seemd like a good model to me lately, and the Monitor is well-positioned to pull it off. It has an audience of opinion makers and is underwritten by a group not obsessed with ever-increasing profits.
I wouldn't have said so as late as a couple of years ago, but I think the end of paper is near. There will be better-than-Kindle products for books, electronic photos are quickly making hard copies pointless, we will soon have a newsprint-like digital device that can download the latest editions of the daily press. We're in a transition period right now that's scary for those who have always made money from paper (including my employer, alas). But it's exciting to watch unfold, too.