Study: Readership Holding Steady, Print Beats Web For Engagement

By: E&P Staff

Even as newspaper financial results fall off a cliff, readership is staying stable, the latest edition of the Readership Institute (RI) tracking study finds.

The study of 3,000 readers of 100 papers across the U.S. found that overall newspaper readership had declined only slightly since the last study in 2006. Readership among young people continued to decline, but slowly. And on average readers are loyal, “engaging” the paper five times a week.

On the RI Web site, Managing Director Mary Nesbitt said the results were surprising — especially since “the imminent demise of newspapers seems to be all we ever hear about.

“The short answer is that reading customers aren’t deserting newspapers at anything approaching the rate that advertising customers are,” Nesbitt added. “That is no consolation for newspaper company employees who are losing their jobs, and it’s a challenge, to say the least, for a smaller staff to produce, sell and deliver a high-quality local news report for the people who want it.

“But make no mistake: lots of people still want it and lots are paying attention to the local newspaper.”

Newspaper readers spend, on average, 27 minutes with the daily paper, little changed in the last six years. Readers spend 57 minutes with the Sunday paper, but that figure “has been slowly dropping” since 2002, Nesbitt said.

Among the mix of good and bad news for publishers in the study is the finding that readers are more engaged with the print newspaper than newspaper Web site.

RI, which has been tracking newspaper reader and non-reader behavior in periodic studies since its landmark Impact report in 2002, measures engagements on how respondents rate papers “experiences” with the print or online newspaper. On four experiences — “gives me something to talk about”, “looks out for my interests”, “ad usefulness” and “touches and inspires me” — the print paper was rated “significantly higher” than the Web site, according to the study’s executive summary.

The bad news is that 62% of respondents said they had never gone to their local paper’s Web site — and just 14% said they had visited between the last seven to 30 days.

RI’s Site Usage Measurement (SUM) score — measuring the frequency and duration of visits — has changed little for newspapers over the years, and is a “feeble” 1.26 on a scale of 1 to 7, Nesbitt said.

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