My take on this is that this analysis shows that publishers aren’t exactly fools to not throw everything into online. Print is where the eyeballs are; it’s where their best customers are.
Of the top five newspaper websites the average reading time online is 12.6 percent to print’s 87.4 percent. That widens to 8.3 percent online, 91.7 percent print when considering that more than one person reads each print copy.*
Advertisers like readers who pay to subscribe more than they do those who don’t, which benefits print. That’s counterbalanced by the fact that online readership presumably skews younger, more educated, higher income, which itself points to a major problem for newspapers.
At the same time, it shows the downside of a paywall strategy like that of The Wall Street Journal. Its online reading is miniscule compared to papers with free sites. Of course, the Journal does have that nifty $60 million or $70 million in subscription revenue to ease the pain.
This analysis doesn’t take into account the fact that once readers go online, they start getting their news from other sources, like blogs, aggregators, and, say, MSNBC.com. Clearly newspapers are missing a ton of traffic and attention time. It also doesn’t take into account the impossible-to-quantify amount of time spent reading newspapers’ remixed content on those same places, which anyway doesn’t much matter to newspapers if they can’t monetize it.
Also these online numbers are volatile from month to month. For example, if I had used The New York Times’s time spent online from May (which was twice the June time for some reason), its total hours would have been 8.4 million. Some numbers don’t pass the smell test, like The Wall Street Journal content being read online just 3.7 percent. That is probably from the weakness of the Internet data. I find it hard to believe that average time spent on The Boston Globe’s site, for example, soared 300 percent from May to June.
But the bottom line is, using this method of getting at print versus online reading time, the numbers, while not as shocking as Langeveld’s estimates, are still disproportionately stacked toward print. They support his point. This, despite the fact that publishers have incentivized their print customers to become online ones.
This analysis doesn’t present any trendlines, which are moving away from print and toward online. But this is fifteen years into the age of the online newspaper—and going on a decade into the high-speed Internet era—and you can spin it a couple of ways: It points to the surprising resiliency of print, or it signals the pitiful job newspapers have done online.
I’d say it’s some of both.
* I’ve updated the chart to fix an out-of-date circulation number I used for the Washington Post. Using the correct number makes the WaPo’s online-to-print ratio slightly more favorable to online and has tiny impacts on the averages for the five, which I’ve also corrected—as signaled by an asterisk. I’ve also included the circulation numbers I used to calculate print reading time. I averaged in Sunday circulation to get a seven-day average.
John Mecklin, in comments below, questions why I didn’t use NAA readership numbers. I used 1.6 readers per copy to be conservative, as I explained in the post. But he has a point, so I ran the numbers using the NAA’s 2.2 readers per copy figure. See below: