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In a cost-cutting move amid shrinking revenues, Utah's two largest daily newspapers are scaling back rural delivery of their print editions in favor of digital replicas.

Effective Feb. 29, paper copies of The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News, printed in West Valley City , no longer will be transported to homes, stores and sidewalk racks in southeastern Utah's Kane, Grand and San Juan counties.

Those readers, instead, will be given three months of free access to what is called the e-edition, a version of the paper that duplicates the print edition in static digital form and is made accessible via the Internet.

Subscribers in 13 other counties off the Wasatch Front will still get home-delivered print newspapers Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but they will be asked to convert to the digital version the rest of the week. Rural counties retaining weekend print delivery are Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Iron, Millard, Piute, Sanpete, Sevier, Uintah, Washington and Wayne.

Utah Media Group, the West Valley City-based company that manages circulation on behalf of the two papers, is notifying the estimated 3,376 Tribune and News subscribers affected by the changes via postal mail.

"This has been a very difficult business decision," the company told readers. "Our goal is to continue to provide Utahns with the best possible news and information in the most efficient way."

Deliveries to Tribune and News home subscribers, racks and other outlets in northern and Wasatch Front counties are not affected.

The Tribune, operated by the New York-based newspaper chain Digital First Media, and the News, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, maintain a longstanding business partnership in print advertising, circulation and other shared operations. Their news coverage and editorial content are separate.

Tribune Editor and Publisher Terry Orme called the circulation cuts "an unfortunate reality of the problems that print media is facing right now."

The Salt Lake City dailies, along with newspapers across the nation, have been struggling for years with steady declines in print advertising revenues as readers switch to accessing news online.

These circulation cuts are the latest reductions in decadeslong contraction of a print delivery footprint for The Tribune that once extended throughout rural Utah and into areas of Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho and Arizona.

Orme said the cutbacks initiated by Utah Media Group reflect the hard fact that trucking newspapers to rural readers "doesn't pencil anymore. The costs exceed the return."

"I'm not happy about it, but I cannot fault them," Orme said of Utah Media Group.

Kelly Roberts, Utah Media Group's senior vice president for circulation, confirmed the moves were part of cost reductions, but he said company officials had not identified any delivery employees for layoffs "at this time."

Roberts said about 3,150 subscribers of the two papers were being scaled back to weekends only, while another 226 no longer would have any print service.

He said those who did not wish to replace their print editions with digital replicas instead would receive subscription refunds.

Orme offered praise for the e-edition and said he hoped affected readers "would try it out." He said recent upgrades had improved its readability, and he called it "a solid, good alternative to the print edition."

Twitter: @TonySemerad