Newspaper Online Usage Math

Conferences by the Online News Association, the Association of Online Publishers in the U.K., and the New England New Media Association were held last week in respectively in Washington (D.C.), London, and north of Boston. I couldn’t be in all three locations at once, so I choose the New England New Media Association conference.

Why pick a regional newspaper new media conference over the annual conference of American online journalists or U.K. online publishers? Because that conference is more representative of what’s actually going on: the challenges that most newspapers and local TV stations face adapting to new-media.

I’m sorry, but what The New York Times, London Daily Telegraph, or other huge newspapers are doing – or can do – isn’t truly representative of the problems at hand. For example, there are some 1,470 daily newspapers in America but 1,230 each have less than 50,000 printed circulation daily Only 40 of the 1,470 newspapers (less than 3 precent) each have more than 250,00 circulation. New England, where the average size newspaper is about 20,000 daily, is a more representative group.

How are these New England newspapers doing online? So far, OK for companies that can each devote probably one full-time employee to new-media. What I noticed from attending their conference this year is that its attendance quadrupled from two years ago and doubled from last year. Thirty one New England newspapers sent a total of more 100 people. Most were newspaper new-media staff. However, there were also 8 publishers and 6 executive editors or editors of the print editions &#151 people who generally didn’t attend such meetings during the past many years. They’ve become serious about their online readership and its revenue potentials. A good sign.

The keynote address in New England was by Rob Curley, former chief of new-media at the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal and Naples (Florida) Daily News and now vice president of product development of PostNewsweek Interactive, the new-media arm of the parent company of The Washington Post and Newsweek magazine.

Rob showed what daily newspapers must be doing five years from now in order to survive. What’s that? Well, sorry to teast you, but I’ll leave the answer for a little later this month because I’m awaiting the video of his presentation to be processed and released by NENMA, so I can point you to it. Also, I have Rob speaking at my Beyond the Printed Word conference in Vienna next month.

I’m still catching up about the other conferences, reading the coverage. Of great help is Jemima Kiss postings of photos of various speakers’ interesting slides from the AOPUK conference. For example.

This just in! According to the latest figures from the Newspaper Association of America Newspaper Audience Database project, more Americans visit newspaper websites than purchase printed editions. That is, more do sometime during a month. The NAA announced that more than 55.5 million Americans now visit newspaper websites at least once per month and this total grew by more than 31 percent during the past year. Sounds like a good PR bullet for newspapers.

But monthly is the big caveat there. Slightly more than 54 million Americans purchase a printed edition daily, but 55.5 million visit a newspaper website at least once per month. Conflating daily print and monthly online figures makes it appear that the American newspaper industry isn’t so much losing daily print readers as gaining equally frequent new readers online. That isn’t true.

But look closely at the NAA’s NAD data, which is downloadable as an Excel spreadsheet. How often does the average user visit a newspaper site each month? There’s are no numbers about that in the NAD spreadsheet, but we can calculate an indication. Though the spreadsheet is password-protected against any changes or added calculations, you can simply add a new worksheet into it by using Excel’s ‘Insert > Worksheet’ command and link it to the NAD data to make these calculations.

Take as an example the first newspaper listed in NAA’s NAD data, The New York Times. Divide its number of monthly users into its number of monthly page views to calculate how many pages the average user saw that month. The answer is 24.8, less than a webpage per day during any month. Make the same calculation about the Boston Globe (line 244) and the answer is 21.3 or only about two webpages every three days. Try the Miami Herald (line 1389) and get 5.6 webpages per month or less than one webpage every five days. Etcetera.

The the NAA figures are conflating the numbers of people who read at least one printed page daily with people who might read perhaps two onlne per week. The numbers aren’t really equivalent.

Moreover, I’m puzzled by another NAA datasheet (PDF) available online, this one from Nielsen/Netratings data. It shows almost the same number of site users per month as the NADs data, but an average of nearly 47 webpages seen monthly per user. That’s a discrepency of more than 100 percent from the NAA’s NAD data! I wonder what the explanation is this huge discrepency?

A clearer picture might be seen in a report the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released this summer, Online Papers Modestly Boost Newspaper Readership:

But the growth of the online news audience has slowed considerably since 2000, particularly among the very young, who are now somewhat less likely to go online for news than are people in their 40s. For the most part, online news has evolved as a supplemental source that is used along with traditional news media outlets. It is valued most for headlines and convenience, not detailed, in-depth reporting.

Broadcast news outlets continue to struggle over the last two years alone, the audiences for nightly network, local TV news and radio news have all slipped. Even so, the recent trends in news consumption are relatively stable when compared to the 1990s when TV news in particular was suffering losses of far greater magnitude.

Similarly, the latest Pew news consumption survey finds that newspapers, which also have seen their audience decline significantly, are now stemming further losses with the help of their online editions. However, the discrete online-only newspaper audience is quite modest in size.

Four-in-ten Americans say they read a newspaper yesterday, with 6% reading a newspaper online 4% read both a print and online newspaper, while 2% read it only online. In addition, 3% say they read something on a local or national newspaper website yesterday. As a result, even the highest estimate of daily newspaper readership 43% for both print and online readers is still well below the number reading a print newspaper on a typical day 10 years ago (50%).

The biennial news consumption survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted among 3,204 adults from April 27 to May 22, finds that the audience for online news is fairly broad, but not particularly deep. People who say they logged on for news yesterday spent 32 minutes, on average, getting the news online. That is significantly less than the average number of minutes that newspaper readers, radio news listeners, and TV news viewers spend with those sources. And while nearly half of all Americans (48%) spend at least 30 minutes getting news on television, just 9% spend that long getting news online.

The web serves mostly as a supplement to other sources rather than a primary source of news. Those who use the web for news still spend more time getting news from other sources than they do getting news online. In addition, web news consumers emphasize speed and convenience over detail. Of the 23% who got news on the internet yesterday, only a minority visited newspaper websites. Instead, websites that include quick updates of major headlines, such as MSNBC, Yahoo, and CNN, dominate the web-news landscape.

The rise of the internet has also not increased the overall news consumption of the American public. The percentage of Americans who skip the news entirely on a typical day has not declined since the 1990s. Nor are Americans spending any more time with the news than they did a decade ago when their news choices were much more limited. In 1996, people on average spent slightly more than an hour (66 minutes) getting the news from TV, radio or newspapers. Currently, they spend virtually the same amount of time (67 minutes) getting the news from all major news sources, the internet included.

As internet news has gone more mainstream, its audience has aged. Since 2000, nearly all of the growth among regular internet news users has occurred among those ages 25-64. By contrast, virtually the same percentage of 18-24 year-olds say they get news online at least three days a week as did so six years ago (30% now, 29% then). Currently, about as many people ages 50 to 64 regularly get news on the internet as do those in their late teens and early 20s.

If newspaper new-media is to succeed printed editions, then it still has a long way to go and not much more than maybe ten years before declining print circulation will otherwise drop below the level where newspapers become uneconomic to publish and therefore insolvent, as others have calculated.

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