State of the Industry: Times Mirror's Americans Online Survey

By: Steve Outing

The Times Mirror Center for The People and The Press this week released its survey on online usage: "Technology in the American Household: Americans Going Online ... Explosive Growth, Uncertain Destinations." The survey offers a glimpse at the state of the online services industry today -- and shows that while we have a long way to go before widespread public acceptance of online services, the industry is making great strides.

Today I'll list off some of the most significant findings of the survey of 4,005 Americans.

(I have been hearing some grumbling on various media-related Internet discussion groups about the methods used by the Times Mirror Center for this survey. As with any survey of this type, take the results with at least a small grain of salt.)

* The number of Americans going online to an information service or directly to the Internet has more than doubled in less than a year. 12 million people subscribed to an online service in June 1995, compared to 5 million in the winter of 1994. 2 million Americans connect to the Internet without benefit of a commercial online service.

* 18 million homes in the U.S. have modem-equipped computers, compared to 11 million in 1994.

* There is a great deal of unused online capacity in the U.S. home market. 8 million of the 18 million homes with modem-equipped computers do not go online. "These consumers represent a clear potential source for continued expansion of online usage," the Times Mirror authors state.

* 9% of all American men are online users, compared to 4% of women. 15% of college graduates are online users, vs. only 3% of high school grads. 14% of Americans with income over $50,000 are online users; the percentages go down as income goes down.

* Online services demand is soft. Only 32% of those who go online said they would miss using online services "a lot" if they were no longer available. Nearly twice as many (63%) newspaper readers say they would miss the paper "a lot" if it were not available. 54% of cable TV subscribers said they would miss it "a lot." 40% of CD-ROM owners would miss their units "a lot."

* 20% of online users say they go online every day. Typically, users go online a few times a week.

* Prodigy and America Online users tend to use the service more for pleasure, and go online in the afternoons and evenings. CompuServe and direct Internet users go online mostly for work reasons and connect most often during the day.

* Americans who access the Internet directly are more satisfied than those who use commercial services. They consider online access much more indispensible than do those who use commercial online services.

* Of users of commercial online services, 18% are signed on to more than one service.

* Few online features are compelling to online users. Email is the hands-down winner, in this as in most other previous surveys. 53% send or receive email at least once a week; 41% perform work-related research or communication online; 30% get the news online once a week or more; 23% participate in discussion groups; 19% obtain entertainment information; and 14% obtain financial information.

* Despite the incredible hype about the World Wide Web, few online users have accessed it. Only 1 in 5 online users (or 3% of all Americans) have ever used the Web. Among online users with 14,400 baud modems or higher, use of the Web is far more common (53%).

* The most common ways the Web is accessed is through work connections (34%) and commercial online services (33%).

* Only 4% of all Americans are getting news online at least once a week. 87% of that group said this activity had not affected their reliance on traditional sources of news.

* Commerce online remains relatively modest. 8% of online users said they had purchased something via online capabilities within the month prior to the survey.

* Email is the only online activity in which women engage as frequently as men.

* Computers are in 36% of American households today, compared to 31% in 1994. 32% of all adults use a home computer at least occasionally today, compared to 26% in 1994.

* More than 1 in 3 computers in U.S. households has been acquired within the past 2 years.

* Online users are more tolerant than the general population. They are more likely to be accepting of homosexuality, for example. And they are strongly in favor of free expression. Online users and the general public are indistinguishable in terms of political party.

* 9% of American households have given up on computers; they no longer own one.

* 47% of modem owners don't know the baud rate of their units.

* The most popular rooms from which computer users explore cyberspace are: Home office or study (32%), living room or den (25%), and "computer room" (8%).

* 35% of online users have received an electronic news clipping or story from a friend.

The results of the Times Mirror survey are fascinating. While there is some depressing news -- such as the finding that most online users wouldn't miss online services a lot -- there are many hopeful signs for the industry. As the survey reports, growth in computer usage and online usage is climbing at a record-breaking pace. There are a lot of unused modems out there, which means potential online customers. And most new PCs sold today have modems built in.

Email remains the most-used feature of online services, a point to remember as you design online services for your newspaper. The fact that few online users get their news online is not surprising. That finding merely points to the need for online news publishers to create more compelling, easier to use products. As the industry and the technology evolve, there will be more reasons for computer users to get news online as well as communicate with others.

Steve Got a tip? Let me know about it

If you have a newsworthy item about the newspaper new media business, please send me a note.

This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at


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