Sunday, April 26, 2009

Online newspaper audience growth: Good news? Not really.


The Newspaper Association of America trumpeted the release of first-quarter online audience data last week with this headline: “Newspaper Web Site Audience Increases More Than Ten Percent In First Quarter To 73.3 Million Visitors,” followed by the glowing subhead: “Newspaper Web Sites Set Records for Audience, Page Views and Active Reach; Latest Scarborough Research: Newspapers Attract Key Demographics in Print and Online.”

Pardon me, then, for reading and questioning the details and putting the data in context, something the NAA doesn’t do.

NAA reports:

  • First quarter traffic to newspaper Web sites was reported as 73.3 million unique visitors (average per month) by Nielsen*.
  • That’s 43.6 percent of all U. S. internet users, and up 10.5 percent versus the same time last year.
  • Page views grew from 3.1 billion per month in last year’s first quarter, to 3.5 billion in 2009.
  • NAA CEO John Sturm suggests this points to “digital success.”


  • Each of the top three news destination on the Web (MSNBC, CNN and Yahoo!News) individually each drew more than half the unique visitors of the entire newspaper industry in March. Year-over-year, MSNBC grew 9 percent, CNN 4 percent, and Yahoo!News 16 percent.
  • Yahoo!News alone gained 5.2 million uniques in March, or nearly 70 percent of the gain of the entire newspaper industry.
  • Newspaper page views at 3.5 billion per month are less than one percent of total U.S. page views (386 billion in February).
  • Time spent on newspaper sites in February, 43 minutes, 9 seconds per month per NAA/Nielsen, compares with total time online of 61 hours, 11 minutes and 56 seconds per U.S. person. This means newspaper sites get the attention of the U.S. online audience just 1.2 percent of the time.
  • The total U.S. online audience (what Nielsen calls the “active digital media universe”) in February was 167 million individuals. As NAA does note, 43.6 percent of that audience visited a newspaper web site, but given that newspaper site traffic works out to only about 1.6 page views per reader per day, many of the newspaper site uniques are clearly represent one-time-only traffic.

NAA further reports:

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

Photo by Raoul Trifan, used under Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

80 percent of newspapers gone in 18 months? Not likely.

wolff2The soundbite that will circulate in the journoblogosphere for the next 24 hours, from columnist and Newser founder Michael Wolff on a panel discussion with Craig Newmark and Bennett Zier:

About 18 months from now, 80 percent of newspapers will be gone. The Washington Post is supported by Kaplan’s testing business. The testing business will still be around in 18 months, and they will probably continue to support the newspaper. But that’ll be an exception.

Now, I have a bunch of predictions hanging out there myself — some have come true already, some have already turned out to be off the mark, the rest are wait-and-see — but this one is a real doozy. There are still about 1,430 daily papers in the U.S., so what Wolff’s prediction means that we can expect the extinction of 1,144 of them. Which works out to, let’s see, a little over two per day, every day, for 18 months. Sorry, that’s not happening.

To be sure, the industry is in deep, deep trouble. Most of the top 10 or 15 newspaper owners are bankrupt or close to it, and are in or near penny-stock territory. They don’t have two cents worth of credit left, and couldn’t raise the money for the most lucrative acquisition imaginable. Which (aside to Matt Ingram) is why there’s not much creativity coming from them. (Amazingly, most newspaper firms are slogging on under the leadership of the same CEOs, which is part of the problem.)

And, to be sure, ad revenue has been heading downward not just for a few years, but in truth, when measured in relation to all other media, for more than 60 years (that dark blue line):

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Newspapers must grow their online news market share. Can they?

news-laptopMy proclamation the other day that “print is still king” got considerable flack from folks who disagreed with assumptions I made in the analysis, as well as from those who apparently didn’t read the qualifier in the headline: “Only 3 percent of newspaper reading happens online.” That’s newspaper reading, not news reading.

In other words, that analysis, limited to the world of newspaper content in print and online, shows that as newspaper readers migrate from print to online sourcing of news, most of them are moving beyond the limited realm of newspaper web sites. This was duly pointed out by some of the commenters, and as a next step in considering the problems that newspapers face, it’s worth exploring what the scope of that problem is and what the newspaper industry must do about it.

First, the scope of the problem: To what extent have Americans shifted their news consumption to the Web, and what share of that attention is on newspaper web sites? Let me avoid the risk of stepping into another controversy over statistics and point to a couple of data sources. Here’s the data. Visit the links. I’ll draw my conclusions, and you can draw yours:

Print newspaper readership continues to decline, as indicated by the downward spiral in paid circulation. Year-over-year ABC-audited newspaper circulation fell 4.6 percent weekdays, 4.8 percent Sundays for the six-month audit period ending last September 30. The next batch of ABC data is due shortly for the period ending March 31, and will likely show a continuation of a 30-year downward trend. USA Today alone is expected to show a drop of 100,000 copies or more than 4 percent.

More and more Americans get their news online. In December the Pew Research Center for People and the Press reported that for the first time, more people “most of their news about national and international issues from the internet” than from printed newspapers, by a ratio of 40 percent to 35 percent. Here’s the graph from that report:

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Print is still king: Only 3 percent of newspaper reading actually happens online


All generally accepted truths notwithstanding, more than 96 percent of newspaper reading is still done in the print editions, and the online share of the newspaper audience attention is only a bit more than 3 percent. That’s my conclusion after I got out my spreadsheets and calculator out again to check the math behind the assumption that the audience for news has shifted from print to the Web in a big way.

This exercise was prompted by recent posts by John Duncan of Inksniffer, in which he argues that “internet metrics substantially exaggerate the importance of the newspaper web audience.” Duncan (who seems to have revived Inksniffer from a long dormancy with a series of math-heavy posts during March), provides calculations supporting his conclusion that in the UK, online sites have only 17 percent of the page impressions delivered by printed newspapers.

Let’s examine how this looks in the U.S. First, print impressions: The NAA’s research shows a “daily” (Monday through Saturday) print audience of 116.8 million, and a Sunday print audience of 134.1 million. (This is much higher than paid circulation, but there are 2.128 readers per daily copy, and 2.477 on Sunday.)

We don’t have clear data about the average number pages each member of that audience looks at, but let’s make an educated guess: 24. That translates to about 87.1 billion printed page views per month*. As a check on our assumption of 24 pages: based on annual newsprint consumption of 9 million metric tons, the industry prints about 190 billion pages (a mix of tabloid and broadsheet sizes). So we’re assuming the average reader looks at about half the pages published, which seems reasonable.

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

Photo by Dustin Diaz, used under Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The content cascade: How content will flow in digital news enterprises


Rather than trying to redefine “the basic unit of news” — it used to be the story; is it now the fact, or the topic, the issue, or what? — and what that implies for the work of journalists, going forward it will be most useful to think about content as a cascade, as in a stream running down a rocky glen, always moving, dividing, uniting, filling pools here and there, constantly finding new niches to fill.

The metaphor of content as a cascading stream means there is no unit — a stream is a stream, it has no discernible building blocks. And it means that content doesn’t sit still. It is never static, but always changing.

Now, that’s not really the way things are right now, especially at newspapers. Right now, usually, a reporter goes out, covers an event, comes back, bangs out 20 inches, moves on to the next assignment and never looks back. The story’s brief online incarnation on the live news site is devoid of hyperlinks; no context is created; and then it disappears into a for-pay archive where few will ever pay the too-high fee to retrieve it. Yes, many newsrooms have moved in the direction of online-first, but even there, it’s mostly publish and move on.

But let me lay out a different vision of how content will flow in a fully digital news enterprise, whether it’s the Associated Press or your friendly neighborhood blog, with benefits at all levels of content creation and consumption: the content cascade.

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

Friday, April 3, 2009

How to restructure MediaNews into a digital enterprise with a future

singleton1Not very surprisingly, my former employer, MediaNews Group, is in workout. Surprisingly, this could turn out to be an opportunity to craft a truly new kind of news enterprise. Bear with me.

As reported first by the New York Times, later in the Wall Street Journal and in the Denver Business Journal, the country’s fourth-largest (by circulation) newspaper publisher has won a forbearance agreement from the lenders to which it owes $1 billion, plus or minus spare change. The lending group, led by Bank of America, is allowing MediaNews to skip its March 31 debt payment while it “attempts to reorganize its capital structure.”

This confirms that MediaNews is in default — forbearance agreements are designed to postpone foreclosure, and lenders don’t threaten to foreclose unless the borrower is in default of one or more loan covenants. Covenants breaches can entail failure to maintain certain balance sheet ratios rather than actually being short of cash, but they’re serious issues and call into question the ability of the enterprise to maintain its “going concern” status.

As it happens, I’ve had the personal pleasure of going through the workout process (in connection with the travails a small newspaper group now owned by MediaNews), and it’s not fun. I’m sure MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton (that’s him in the picture) never thought he’d find himself in this situation.

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

Paying for online news: Sorry, but the math just doesn’t work.

The morning’s RSS scan brings another couple of entrants in the ongoing conversation about paying for news on newspaper web sites:
  • As Roy Greenslade reports, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch favors charging: “People reading news for free on the web, that’s got to change.”
  • In in an AJR article by Paul Farhi questioning the wisdom of AP’s decision, years ago, to start selling its content to online-only publishers, AP president and CEO Tom Curley is quoted as favoring reader fees, as well: “The readers and viewers are going to have to pay more. Advertising is not there. Advertising will likely be contracting. So there has to be a shift. If I had tried to suggest this a couple of years ago, I’d be hollered out of the room. Last year the realization started to occur. I would say the conversation has now turned from a whisper into a roar. Media CEOs are saying, ‘I’ve got to charge.’”
OK, newspaper CEOs, let's have a look at that urge to charge you’re roaring about every morning when you wake up. I ran some numbers derived from the NAA’s just-reported 2008 newspaper revenue recap. Here’s what the back of my envelope says:

Read the rest of this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.