Never mind the questions of how many people would actually want to pay for an online-only P-I and how much they'd be willing to cough up for such a product. To get to those questions, one has to assume that Hearst is actually going to let a bunch of former P-I employees launch an online-only P-I. That is a totally flawed assumption.
Hearst is giving every indication that it's going to hold on tight to the P-I brand and to seattlepi.com, and quickly transform them into some sort of new online journalism venture after the P-I's print edition likely closes this month.
Which means, from a branding perspective, the Packers Modelers almost certainly won't be able to pitch Seattleites on paying to keep the P-I alive online. To the average person, the P-I will still be alive online, right there at seattlepi.com.
I suppose it might be possible to make some sort of pitch that Seattleites should pay to "keep the spirit of the old P-I alive" by handing money to former P-I employees who are launching their own online startup. But their own online startup called... what, exactly?
The original Packers Model worked because an object of intense community nostalgia and profound sentiment—a football team—was transferred from the few hands of private owners into the many hands of the team's fan base. Key to this process was that before and after the transfer, the Green Bay Packers remained the Green Bay Packers. The brand stayed intact, and therefore retained, for a mass audience, its sense of intrinsic value.
That's not likely to be the case here.
Here, the object of intense community nostalgia and profound sentiment—Seattle's oldest newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer—is most likely going to stay in the same corporate hands and retain exactly the same name as it morphs into something smaller, newer, and more experimental: Seattle's newest online news venture, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. If the community is going to be made to want to buy a share in something that might replace the loss of its beloved ink-on-paper P-I, then it is going to have to be made to want to buy something with a name that doesn't at all match the object of its fond collective memories.
That's a hard sell.
Keep the Green Bay Packers alive! Buy a share in something that's not called the Green Bay Packers! It doesn't quite work. Nor does: Keep the Seattle Post-Intelligencer alive! Buy a share in something that's not called the Seattle Post-Intelligencer!
In fact, for the mass audience—the sine qua non for big city newspapers—that is probably going to be an impossible mental and emotional substitution to make. And this, unfortunately, is one of the hard first truths that the local Packers Planners need to confront: P-I devotion and nostalgia is likely far less fungible than they hope.