Online Newspaper Readership Climbs Sharply

As the newspaper industry grapples with the decline of print readership, the online picture looks rosier than ever.

The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) yesterday revealed that the number of newspaper site visitors jumped by nearly one third during the second quarter of this year, compared to Q2 2005. Readers spend about 6 percent more time on the sites on average each month, too. However, even though Web readership is on the incline, another recent report from Pew Research Center for the People and the Press News cautions that overall newspaper readership continues to dwindle.

According to the NAA study, conducted by Nielsen//NetRatings, an average of almost 55 million users per month visited newspaper Web sites in Q2 of this year, compared to the 42.5 million who did so during the year-ago period

Those news hounds are also spending more time reading online newspapers. Visitors stayed on newspaper sites for an average of 39.5 minutes in Q2 ’06, up about 6 percent over last year’s 37 minutes per month average. The number of times those users went to paper sites also increased slightly, from 7.5 to 8 visits on average. Individual viewer sessions averaged about five minutes for both years.

“All of this is to demonstrate the online value proposition for online newspaper sites,” explained Randy Bennett, the NAA’s VP, audience and new business development. Bennett believes the increased Web readership bodes well for online newspaper classifieds, as well as for the ability for online paper publishers to attract national advertisers.

The study also showed that from Q2 2005 to Q2 2006, the active reach of newspaper sites rose from 28.7 to 35.6 percent of the U.S. Web population, pageviews increased from 1.65 to over 2.5 billion, and pages per person climbed from 39 to 45.8.

A report released in June by the trade organization showed that online newspaper ad spending jumped almost 35 percent to more than $613 million in Q1 2006 compared to Q1 of last year.

Despite these inroads, a report from Pew released earlier this week noted, “the reach of newspaper Web sites is still limited.” According to the Consumption and Believability Study, 94 percent of newspaper readers access print papers, while 14 percent visit newspaper sites, and some read both formats. Although online newspaper readership has helped buffer the overall decline in readers, that study also found that the number of Americans who reported reading a newspaper yesterday has shrunk about 10 percent in as many years.

Nationally-recognized newspaper sites covering a large metro area garnered a significant amount of those who read online papers in general, the Pew report found. Of those who read a paper online the previous day, 18 percent visited The New York Times site, 9 percent read The Washington Post site, and 7 percent read the USA Today site.

“The major market sites are going to get a large number of visitors,” affirmed Bennett, who stressed that newspaper sites, big and small, combining innovative content offerings and marketing are attracting growing audiences. “There are variances,” he suggested. “I think the variances are based less on geography and more on the activity on the part of the Web site.”

Other sites finding success are those that feature a mix of content that is presented on the homepage, as well as those that include databases of locally-relevant information such as drink specials at local watering holes or lists of hometown soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq. Marketing helps too. “We’re seeing an increase in marketing of newspaper Web sites, beyond just putting the domain name in the newspaper,” said Bennett.

In keeping with the NAA’s mission to raise awareness about the value of online newspapers, Bennett said the organization this fall will evaluate which sites are successful and why, and devise industry best practices based on that research.

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