Hearst announced today that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer would move to an online-only edition on Tuesday.

The staffing implications speak to the different economics of online publishing versus print publishing:

Few expected a buyer would be found, and it became clear in recent weeks that Hearst was advancing plans to transform Seattle into a testing ground for switching the traditional big-city daily into a lean Web operation. The P-I, which employs roughly 145 people, will retain just 20 editors and other journalists and hire more than 20 advertising salespeople.

I’m guessing that Hearst has some central online technology group, since you can’t run a web operation of this scale without a staff of developers and online production people.  But, the relative scale of the workforce is pretty stark.

Losses were running at $14 million a year on the print side.

The shift is going to be interesting to watch.  One reality: the sales people are flying without a net — no print product to help justify rate and traditional selling practices.  Management is likely betting that the reps will be more aggressive in driving online sales.

What of the other paper in the market, The Seattle Times, the independent publisher who has been operating under the terms of a Joint Operating Agreement with Hearst?  On their web site, they have a page dedicated to updating the market about the situation with Hearst.  As of this morning, the page had not yet been updated.

While it is not yet clear how this situation will be resolved, some things are certain:

The Seattle Times will continue to publish in print and online and we will continue to provide our readers, advertisers and the community with the news and information that they have come to expect from us. And we will continue to fulfill our commitments to the Seattle P-I to the best of our abilities, until or unless it is determined it will cease publication.

One bet: The Post-Intelligencer staff will be doing printed special advertising supplements to boost revenue before you know it.