How to Get Them to Read More, More Often

A topic we’ll be exploring later this week at the Online News Association’s annual conference is how to get consumers to read electronic publications more often, more fully, and for more time.

We’ve frequently been using the audience overview section of The New York Times Web edition’s media kit as a baseline for newspapers. We use it because we presume that is a rather frequently read news site and because is kind enough to put its usage statistics online along with those of its major competitors. Here are the basics for the month of July (the most recently posted by NYT):

      Unique Visitors: 8,283,000
      Page Views: 265,719,000
      Average Visits per Person: 5.74
      Average Visitors’ Total Time There All Month: 34.35 minutes

Approximately 8.3 million users generated approximately 266 million page views, an average of 32 page views per user per month. If the average user visited 5.74 time that month, then the average visitor saw less than six Web pages per visit. If the average visitor spent 34.35 (which we think means 34 minutes and 21 seconds) on the site all month long, then that’s exactly six minutes per visit and one minute per Web page.

Other major newspaper sites didn’t do much better:

      Average Vists per Person
      Washington Post: 5.35
      USA Today: 3.73
      The Wall Street Journal: 5.41
      Average Visitors’ Total Time There All Month
      Washington Post: 21.59 minutes
      USA Today:16.06 minutes
      The Wall Street Journal: 43.09 minutes

Now, contrast those against statistics for reading the printed editions. Although we don’t have print edition reading data from those specific newspapers, the Readership Institute of the Media Management Center at Northwestern University provides some clues. A study it released a year ago this month found that 65 percent of U.S. adults reader their local newspaper daily and that 78 percent read it and a community or national newspaper daily.

Sixty five percent of the days in July means be 20.15 usages for the print edition that month, compared to 3.73 to 5.47 usages for the online versions that we’ve mentioned.

A key difference here is that advertisers paid the publishers of the print editions a rate based upon 100 percent of circulation daily, not actual readership daily. Advertisers paid the publishers of the online editions only according to how many ads were actually exposed. This means that the NYT online edition was able to generate advertising revenues through its average user only 5.47 times that month, compared to the print edition’s 31 times that month. And on days when both the the print edition and the online edition were read, the print publisher was able to charge his advertisers for all the advertising on all pages printed (generally more than 80) but the online edition was able to charge her advertisers for only the ads on the average number of Web pages actually seen (six). It’s no wonder that the printed edition earns more than 20 times the of annual advertising revenues per user than the online edition does!

Likewise, with the time spent reading. The Readership Institute reports that the average reader of a printed editon spends on it about 27 minutes per day and reads the entire edition on 55% of days. By contrast, the average user of the online editions we’ve mentioned spends between 16.06 and 43.09 minutes and sees only 32 pages all month!

Although we believe that Web editions can more quickly satisfy some consumers’ thirst for news than can printed editions, for online news publishing and online journalism to be more viable in the future, a way must be found to improve these usage figures.

We believe the answer is:

  • Not shoveling online the printed editions’ content but devising new forms of content that more appeal to consumers.
  • Finding a better electronic news vehicle than either the Web, e-mail, or RSS.