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Readers Have Already Started Convergence Between Browsing a Newspaper and Looking At Its Web Site; Now Newspapers Have to Play Catch Up to Make It Worthwhile

The one bright spot for newspapers recently has been the success of their own web sites where advertising is increasing some 30% compared to 3% for the print edition. But new research now shows one reason for that increase is that around 21% the print edition’s readers are looking primarily at the web site, and the trick now facing publishers is to ensure those readers continue looking at both platforms rather than to make the complete switch from one to another.

Nielsen/NetRatings studied just those Internet users who also read newspapers, excluding those who get news from other online and information sources, and it found that 21% of Web users who read newspapers have transferred their readership primarily to the online version.

Now in the classic “the glass is half empty or half full analogy” it means that 72% of the online readers primarily continue to read the newspaper, or it means that 21% are focusing on the online edition. About 7% said they split their time evenly between the print edition and online edition.

One thing for sure --  readers are ready to spend time on both and it is up to the newspaper to ensure there is good reason that readers should spend time on both. Each needs to fulfill the need, with neither one fulfilling it completely.

Nielsen believes the number of readers (21%) transferring their allegiance to the online edition is significant, noting that many of the newspaper online sites now feature original material, and cater to what the Internet does best such as providing online message boards.

About 53% of the online readers are male whereas for the print edition some 57% of the readership is female. It will be a foolish publisher that does not pay close attention to those demographics as convergence policies are made, if for no other reason that in about 80% of households it is the woman who controls the spending.

Another survey by research company Hitwise showed that some 26% per cent of visits to newspaper online site came from viewers who had been looking at other online news sites. Another 19% of the visits came via search engines and the like.

Hitwise numbers seemed to indicate a correlation between just how “metropoliotan” a newspaper is and where its online audience comes from. For instance, the New York Times was the leading newspaper web site in May with 11.255 million unique visitors, but of those some 72% came from outside the print edition’s main circulation area of New York/New Jersey/Connecticut.

And interestingly, whereas print circulation tends to stay relatively stable whether it is an interesting news month or not, Internet circulation tends to react in a very similar fashion to hawking newspapers on the street corner – if the barker has a good headline the paper sells, if not …

For example, in March the New York Times boasted that its Internet usage had reached a record 15 million, but by May it was down 25%. Why? Probably had a lot to do with the Terri Schiavo case in Florida (the woman who had been declared brain dead and her husband wanted life support turned off but her parents wanted it continued).  It was a story that riveted the nation and proved yet again that when there is such a story of national importance then Internet usage will jump sky high, and large metropolitans like the Times and the Washington Post are likely to benefit.

But a metropolitan newspaper like the Houston Chronicle that does not have such a prominent national reputation saw that three-quarters of its online readers came from just Texas.

Nielsen Net/Ratings, in a recent report prepared for the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), said that 29% of all Internet users read an online newspaper, representing a total audience of about 44 million in March – the month of the Schiavo story.

The poll also showed a trend that usage of newspaper web sites was growing while those of other news vendors was declining, which might indicate that people trust their newspapers a bit more than recent polls might suggest.

There had been talk earlier this month that the veritable Christian Science Monitor – recognized around the world for its high journalistic standards – might consider forsaking its lowly 59,000 daily circulation and concentrate solely on the 1.8 million unique visitors to csmonitor.com.

But editor Richard Bergenheim, in a letter to Editor & Publisher, made clear that wasn’t about to happen and his reasoning is something the industry should pay attention to:

“There is no economic benefit to discontinuing the print edition of the Monitor. In fact, we would lose important revenue if we took such a step. We are certainly investing in our Web site and will continue to do so, but the two forms of publication will continue their partnership as far down the future as we can see.”

Exactly how it should be!

© Philip M. Stone of  Stone & Associates, a partner in followthemedia.com


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