Newspaper Readers Turning to Web

Millions of former newspaper readers now get their news from the Web, but the majority remain loyal to their favorite print news outlets.

A study by Nielsen//NetRatings said that 21 percent of online users who read newspapers now rely primarily on Web editions, while 7 percent say they split their news consumption between the Web and print. That leaves a vast majority, about 72 percent, who still access newspapers primarily in print, but represents huge growth in the online news medium.

The study showed not only the convenience of the Web, analysts say, but also the staying power of brands in the media space, with relatively few users reporting that they have abandoned traditional mainstream media outlets in favor of Web-only rivals.

Exclusive Web Content

“A significant percentage of newspaper readers have transferred their preference from print to online editions,” Gerry Davidson, senior media analyst at Nielsen//NetRatings, said.

Publishers have responded, Davidson told the E-Commerce Times, by creating flows of exclusive Web content and creating communities around their news outlets.

“Many online editions now feature original content and have developed an online strategy that includes online message boards and editorial blogs,” he added.

Many publishers still struggle with how to monetize that readership shift and how to remain profitable in the face of the seismic change in readership habits. While some publishers charge for access to their online versions, most offer free access or require only that a user register.

Nielsen said men make up more than half of the heavy online users of news, by 53 percent to 47 percent.

Top Newspapers Stay on Top

The top five newspaper Web sites were: The New York Times, with 11.3 million visitors in May; USA Today, with 9.2 million, the Washington Post at 7.4 million, the Los Angeles Times with 3.8 million visitors and the San Francisco Chronicle with 3.4 million.

Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, said consumers are increasingly comfortable with getting their news online and, in fact, prefer the immediacy of it in many cases to waiting for the morning paper to hit the porch.

“The benefits of immediacy were really driven home in the 2004 election and users have come to turn to the Web first when they want news fast and on their timeline,” Rainie told the E-Commerce Times. The shift manifested itself in the rise of blogs and other developments that are still playing themselves out.

“It’s not a great leap to see people moving from a newspaper site to an alternative,” Rainie noted. “The big change is getting people to get their news online.”

Still, the loyalty to brands is significant and might underscore a wariness among Web users about the proliferation of news outlets online.

Money Issue

The fact that readers aren’t being lost altogether is probably little consolation to media companies struggling to live up to their traditional histories as strong profit-generation machines.

The New York Times Co. recently saw its stock slip to a yearly low and has announced a range of job cuts, as have other newspaper concerns. Newspapers have seen readership declines and, more recently, huge drops in classified ad revenue as users turn to options such as eBay and Craigslist to sell items.

Meanwhile, newspapers are searching for various ways to make their online presences stronger — and more profitable — without alienating readers. The New York Times said last month it would begin charging for access to some online content, a move the Los Angeles Times tested but retreated from after an outcry.

Acquisition is another approach old media is taking to the Web question.

The New York Times bought About.com last year; the Wall Street Journal purchased MarketWatch and, more recently, Scripps made what is seen as a major online move by purchasing Shopzilla, an online shopping search site.

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