Study: Newspapers’ Web Traffic Exploding

Major local newspaper Web sites are growing fast — in many cases, faster than the rest of the Web, according to new findings by comScore Media Metrix.

During the past six months, seven of the 10 largest U.S. media markets saw double-digit increase in visitors to major regional papers’ Web sites, according to the Reston, Va. research firm. At the same time, Internet subscribers in the same market saw only a fraction of that growth.

During May, for instance, unique visitors to the New York Daily News‘s site grew 23 percent, while NYPost.com and Newsday.com each saw 12 percent growth. At the same time, however, the number of New Yorkers going online grew only 3 percent.

Similarly, unique visitors to Chicago’s SunTimes.com increased a staggering 38 percent, while the market’s online audience grew only 3 percent as well. Only in Philadelphia, Boston and Dallas-Ft. Worth did local newspapers not experience the same growth trends.

Additionally, Media Metrix found that most visitors to many of the top newspaper Web sites tend to spend more money online than the average Internet user. For instance, visitors to Tribune Co.’s Newsday‘s Web site and Knight Ridder Digital’s BayArea.com, which is affiliated with the San Jose Mercury News, typically buy three times’ more annually than does the average Internet user.

Media Metrix attributed the shifts to growing importance in online classifieds, and to parallel changes in media consumption that sees interactive media playing a role in supplementing traditional TV and newspapers. That’s much the same trend touted by groups like the Online Publishers Association, which are encouraging advertisers to buy ads on news and information sites to reach a lucrative at-work audience.

“It’s clear that online newspaper sites are rapidly gaining readers — generally at the expense of print readership,” said Peter Daboll, president of comScore’s Media Metrix division. “Many of these newspaper sites offer a rare opportunity for advertisers to efficiently reach local market audiences that are growing rapidly and spending money more freely.”

The findings come on the heels of a slew efforts by OPA members to establish a daytime news online “primetime,” supplementing evening TV-watching. Last month, NYTimes.com, CNET , CBS MarketWatch , USAToday.com and weather.com launched a network designed to promote daypart-based ad buys across multiple sites. Earlier that month, New York Times Digital introduced daypart ad buys across its flagship site.

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