Are News Sites in Britain Wasting One-Third Their Advertising Potential?

Writing about the Four Fundamental Traits of New-Media, I mentioned in 1998 that…

“Distance Disappears. Geography ceases to be a factor, except for language and culture.”

The British newspaper industry is reading research published this month City University Senior Lecturer Neil Thurman in the journal Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism. His research notes that the British are actually a minority of the readers of news websites based in Britain. Thurman’s research points out that that Americans make up an average of 36 per cent of that readership, with up to another 39 per cent of readers coming from other countries. As few as one in four readers may be from the United Kingdom.

Several months ago, Thurman was kind enough to send me a draft copy of his report, which I’ll write about later this month. However, The Times (of London) Media Analyst Rhys Blakely yesterday published an interesting story about foreign readership and how recent Nielsen//NetRatings data from the UK that confirms much of this research.

According to the latest figures from Nielsen//NetRatings, the media researcher, Guardian Unlimited and TimesOnline, the UK’s two largest ‘quality’newspaper websites in terms of users, have more American than British readers. The Daily Telegraph‘s online offering is approaching a similar tipping point. The Independent is nearly twice as popular in the US as on its home turf. Perhaps most strikingly, the Daily Mail, commonly regarded as speaking to Middle England, has more than three times as many US readers online as British ones.

This is not a new phenomenon. At least 1,375 US daily newspapers are on the web. And yet, as long ago as 2005 (which counts as another age on the internet), the Evening Standard [of London] was the 31st most popular online source of news for Americans. London’s local paper punched well above its weight in a field dominated by the American broadcast networks NBC, CNN, ABC, CBS and Fox News.

As I mentioned in 1998, the first of The Four Fundamental Traits of New-Media is, as Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, put it, “Bits, not Atoms.”

Unfortunately, most countries’ advertising industries are based on delivering gazillions of atoms of printed paper or radiating a radio or TV signal across their country’s physical geography, not necessarily delivering electronic bits of information across entire languages or cultures. These legacy industries need to change.

If Americans make up an average of 36 per cent of the readership of news websites based in Britain, then it seems clear that those sites had best advertise to them or else waste over one-third of the sites advertising potential.

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