Online news services may now be numerous, but there is little evidence directly linking falling newspaper and magazine sales to people switching to the web.

Stefan Wojciechowski, head of news and magazines for the NFRN, says: "The latest figures suggest that online subscriptions are up 0.5% year-on-year."

And he cites The Guar-dian's recent move to

provide online editorial content more frequently than hard copy content.

However, Jon Bunting, commercial director of WH Smith News, believes that the printed product will prove resilient. "I don't think you will ever reach a stage where people are no longer buying newspapers. There is something about the experience of reading them that people like."

John Lennon, MD of the Association of News Retailing, isn't so sure. He says: "I don't think it will be too far in the future when people will be downloading newspapers and magazines from virtual retailers."

The Scotsman, for example, already allows consumers to download the entire paper from the internet.

News International's recent shift to defining itself as a "content provider" rather than a publisher indicates market trends, says Lennon. "The industry has to get its head round the fact that what it is selling is content," he says.

"Predominantly that is through the newsstand, but it won't always be." He adds that TV and radio could equally be responsible for eroding the popularity of newspapers and magazines.

The canniest publications have tried to balance hard copy editorial content with online material in order to avoid cannibalising newspaper and magazine readership. It is also widely recognised that an increasing amount of advertising is migrating to the internet and away from hard copies.

But the internet itself could prove a boon to hard copy sales. Bunting says: "It's only a matter of time before retailers start building the magazine category into their online shopping sites. Several supermarkets have started to discuss the feasibility of that."

However, the medium would have limitations, says Lennon: "Supermarkets could sell magazine subscriptions on their web sites, but whether they could sell newspapers is a different matter. If their online picking operates out of stores rather than warehouses you could see how they could."

Supermarket sales of newspapers online would of course pose a threat to small retailers. But independents have seen this one coming. A project to allow stores to sell newspapers and magazines ordered online is in its early stages, according to

one industry source.nHard times for hard copies?