Reader Behavior Scores Rise, But Not Among Youth

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By: Jennifer Saba

More people are reading newspapers today — but spending a little less time with them when they do — according to a survey released by the Readership Institute, a division of the Media Management Center at Northwestern University.

The study notes that reader behavior scores (RBS) rose in 2003 to 3.56 (on a scale of 1-7) from 3.24 in 2002. The number one denotes someone who does not read the local daily newspaper and seven represents a reader who spends a lot of time with the paper. “RBS is a tracking tool that allows newspapers to establish a baseline measurement for the frequency, completeness and amount of time consumers spend with the local daily newspaper,” according to the report.

Not surprisingly, age is a primary factor for readership. Despite fresh efforts by many papers to reach younger readers, the RBS continues to drop among the youngest age group polled, those 18-24, with a score of 2.68 in 2003. That number was 2.95 in 2002. Young people that do read papers tend to purchase single copies — 41%.

The study also found that papers trying to attract younger readers need to do more. Of the people who noticed a change in the newspaper (17.5%) nearly 60% are heavy readers while 17% of light readers say they have noticed a difference. These findings indicate “the need to be bolder in implementing changes that are specifically targeted to light readers, who tend to skew younger.”

RBS numbers among those 65 and older have the strongest showing among all age groups and increased the most sharply, 4.44 in 2003 from 3.91 the year prior.

However, the average time that people spend with newspapers is down. Readers spend 26 minutes per day during the week reading the paper (down from 27 minutes in 2002) and 57 minutes on Sunday (down from 64 minutes).

The study also found:

* As in 2002, men tend to be heavier readers of the weekday newspapers. Women spend more time than men with Sunday editions.

* Of all adults surveyed in the RBS study, African Americans scored the highest with 3.79 compared with 3.61 for whites, 3.04 for Hispanics and 2.26 for Asian Americans.

* Papers with circulations between 100,000 and 200,000 were the only ones not to see any gains in RBS numbers.

* Newspaper Web sites still have a ways to go to catch up with their inky counterparts. Overall, more than 70% of respondents have never visited their newspaper’s site.

The Readership Institute surveyed by telephone over 3,000 adults randomly selected from 100 newspaper markets in July 2002 and again in October-November 2003.

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