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Newspaper Website Traffic Up, But Subscribers Elusive

Good news for newspaper websites and their advertisers. Newspapers improved upon website traffic in the first quarter of 2012 with a 4.4% increase year-over-year in adult unique visitors (113 million) and a 10% increase in adult average daily visitors (25 million). That according to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), citing comScore data.

More good news: newspapers achieved a more than 7% increase in unique visitors ages 21 to 34, with average daily visits by this age group up 17% and total visits rising by 15%. Young audience engagement with newspaper websites is demonstrated by a 10% increase in average daily visitors in the 18-to-24 age group.

And those visitors skew male, according to the Nieman Journalism Lab, citing a University of Texas study. “Are you a young dude interested in the news? You’re a top paywall target,” writes Nieman’s Adrienne La France. (The paywall typically allows perhaps 10 visits per month, before requesting the visitor subscribe; or puts in-depth content and lead stories behind the paywall). But the University of Texas study showed strong intent to pay—not strong follow through. The researchers compared the free/paid content to ramen noodles and steak; of course someone prefers steak, and young subscribers would prefer the deeper content behind a paywall, but cannot necessarily afford it.

As Caroline H. Little, NAA president and CEO. “These increases come even as more newspapers implement digital subscription strategies. In tracking newspapers that have been charging for digital content for a year or more, we found that 37% have experienced increases in unique visitors, with 24% reporting increases of 10% or more.”

In Front Of or Behind the Paywall?
So traffic is up to sites, and Americans are reading, if not paying. The Boston Globe earlier this week dropped its six-month-old paywall for 12 days, in hopes of attracting try-and-buy traffic. With just 18,000 paid subscribers, compared to the 454,000+ digital subscribers to the New York Times, the smaller and regional Globe (ironically, owned by the New York Times Co.) finds subscribers more elusive.
The message to advertisers is that online newspapers are far from dead; and that with a property like the New York Times, paywall will not hide your ad, it will filter out those who watch their purse strings. Good for advertisers like, perhaps, Accenture or Tag Heuer watches. For lower-cost consumer goods, and those advertising locally or in regional properties like the Boston Globe, stay above the digital fold and in front of the paywall.

Other key findings of NAA’s comScore analysis indicate that in the first quarter, unique visitors in the high-income bracket ($100,000 and above) are up more than 6%, with average daily visitors increasing by 15% and total minutes spent rising by more than 19%.

Like the comScore data, NAA’s multiplatform study underscores young people’s growing preference for digital newspaper formats. Of those surveyed in the 18-to-34 age group, 24% said they read only print newspapers while 34% read both print and digital newspapers. For digital-only newspapers, the number jumps to 48%.

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