UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

February 11, 2009

TROUBLE FOR ONLINE NEWSPAPERS

Newsosaur - One of the biggest reasons to question the potential for standalone newspaper sites has been identified by Greg Harmon of Belden Interactive, who since 2001 has polled 300,000 newspaper website users in 250 markets across the country.

In his work, Harmon has discovered quite consistently that fully two-thirds of the visitors to newspaper sites say they visited the site because they are readers of the print newspaper.

This suggests that newspapers have taken good advantage of the strength of their brands and the visibility they command in the markets they serve. But what would happen if the print product went away?

A case could be made that website readership would rise, because readers would have few, if any, other places to get local news. However, it is unlikely the vacuum created by the disappearance of the print paper would remain unfilled for long. . .

Fighting to gain visibility, traffic and advertising, a standalone newspaper website would be burdened by the second major problem turned up consistently in Harmon's research: Young consumers, who represent the future of any media business, spurn newspaper websites.

Year after year since 2001, Harmon reports, the average age of newspaper website visitors has been rising as the number of readers under the age of 35 declines.

As of 2007, half of newspaper site visitors were 45 or older. By comparison only 34% of the U.S. population is 45 or older, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

On the other hand, the number of younger visitors to newspaper sites is falling. While 46% of newspaper site visitors were between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2001, the number dropped to 27% in 2007, according to Harmon's research.

The third reason to be concerned about the strength and stability of standalone newspaper website readership is that the bulk of the users not referred to newspaper sites by the print product are relatively fickle visitors who Harmon calls "fly-bys."�

Fly-bys, which represent about a third of a newspaper site'S traffic, are people who were referred to the newspaper's site from a link at Google, Digg, Drudge, Huffington Post or someplace else. They drop in long enough to glance at a specific article on the newspaper site and then are gone. They are not the same as the loyal readers prized by either print or online advertisers. . .

Part of a three part series

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