Study: 16% of U.S. Households Read Web Newspapers

By: Steve Outing Most people in the online news industry this week have been discussing the just-released U.S. news consumption survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which finds that 36 million people now get some news from the Internet in a typical week -- up from 11 million two years ago. The Pew study confirms what we all know: the Internet is now a serious news medium; almost as many Americans use the Internet on a typical day as spend time reading a magazine.

Overlooked is another new study of U.S. newspapers and the Internet, which when juxtaposed to the Pew study of all news sources and the Internet provides additional insight into newspapers specifically.

The latest study is from Paragon Research of Denver, Colorado, which conducted a random survey of 400 U.S. heads of household in May. It finds that 16% of households regularly access the Internet to read a newspaper site, and that usage of the Internet to read a newspaper is similar for home-delivery subscribers, single-copy print edition purchasers, and those who neither subscribe nor purchase single copies of a newspaper.

One of the more interesting findings of the Paragon study is that 13% of households that do not get home delivery but who access the Internet say that at some point they dropped their print edition subscriptions due to the ability to access a newspaper on the Internet.

Meanwhile, 11% of current home delivery subscribers who access the Internet to read a newspaper online say they are likely to drop their subscriptions at some point due to availability of the newspaper's content on the Internet.

According to the study's author, Paragon executive vice president Mike Reid, "Although the number of households accessing the Internet to read a newspaper is still fairly small, the availability of Internet editions looks to be a factor in declining (print) circulation, at least in some markets."

Here are some other findings from the Paragon newspapers-Internet study:

The incidence of households accessing the Internet to read a newspaper has doubled since the last time Paragon conducted this survey, two years ago.

Those using the Internet to read a newspaper are most likely to be males under the age of 40.

Those people who neither subscribe to a newspaper nor regularly buy a single copy of a newspaper, but who use the Internet for news, visit newspaper Web sites more frequently than do home delivery subscribers or single-copy purchasers. They read a Web newspaper on average 3.5 days out of 7; newspaper delivery subscribers average 3.1; and single-copy purchasers average 2.5 days.

Of those ex-newspaper subscribers who access the Internet at least once a week to read a newspaper, one-quarter of them say they cancelled the print edition because of the Internet newspaper service. Men were more likely to halt print delivery than women in this group. (Ex-subscribers who use the Internet to read newspapers is a small number of the total sample -- 17 respondents -- so keep that in mind.)

Among those who have the print edition delivered to their home or office and access the Internet at least once a week for news, 53% say they are not likely at all to cancel delivery of the newspaper; 36% say they are not very likely to do so. Out of those total responses for this category (36), only two men said they are "very likely" to drop their home print subscriptions; no women expected to halt print delivery. However, the incidence of print subscribers saying they will likely cancel due to newspaper Web sites has doubled since the last Paragon study two years ago.

Of those home delivery subscribers who access the Internet at least once a week for news, the majority (56%) when online read only newspapers other than the one they get at home in print form. 19% primarily read online the same newspaper they get delivered in print. And 25% read their local newspaper online plus one or more other newspaper Web sites. (There was virtually no difference between men and women in this category.)

When asked of the entire sample, 16% say they access the Internet to read a newspaper at least once a week. 9% of the total sample read a newspaper online once or twice a week, while the remaining 7% went online for news three to seven days a week. Only 2% of the total sample went online to read a newspaper seven days a week. (These numbers are similar to another study I reported on recently by Eric Meyer of Newslink Associates. His study of a "typical" newspaper Web site found consistent repeat users to be in the 2-3% range.)

The study included some print newspaper statistics as well. 55% of all respondents say they take home delivery of one or more daily newspapers, with men being slightly more likely to be non-subscribers. Remember that first Paragon statistic I cited above? 16% of the total access online newspapers. There's little doubt any more that an online component of a newspaper is an important part of a newspaper company's total operation.

The Paragon study does start to show some visible cannibalization of the print product from newspaper Web sites. Reid says this showed as barely a blip two years ago, but became apparent during this study, although the numbers are still small.

Reid's company does not focus on Internet and new media issues, but as Paragon has increased its client list of newspapers (including the Denver Post, San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner), the company has moved into new media research occasionally. He says some of his clients at the publisher level are "freaked out" about the impact the Internet might have on home delivery, hence he conducted this study. They think it's a big deal, Reid says, "but it's not" yet.

Contact: Mike Reid,

Counterpoint: Web site emphasis on news

My column of a couple weeks ago about newspaper Web sites not relying so much on news to drive repeat traffic to their Web sites continues to bring in mail. Todd Engdahl, editor of Denver Post Online (and a former city editor for that newspaper), wrote in with a contrary point of view:

"Your June 1 column about relying too much on news has been bugging me ever since I read it, so here are some counter thoughts. Admittedly I have a bias, because I come from a news background and because I run a site that emphasizes news, sports and classifieds, but I still think several of your points were off the mark.

"- The brand names of big city newspapers are synonymous with news, so I think that's what most users expect when they go to those sites.

"- Our usage patterns on DPO indicate 'news' (broadly defined) is what people want. More than 90% of editorial traffic is on news and sports. Since we measure classified usage by searches executed rather than page views, I can't factor it directly into the above comparison, but I suspect classified traffic is at least equal to sports. And, in football season, sports is probably the most trafficked area. Admittedly, DPO is light on public service/database/news-you-can-use type content, but the small efforts we've made in those areas have never indicated to me that they would be huge traffic generators.

"- I think your reliance on the applicability of Eric Meyer's study to other papers is misplaced. ... I fail to see how a study of a small weekly's Web site (where 75% of the visitors also subscribe to the paper) can be extrapolated to large Web sites run by big-city papers with known brand names. I'm not saying we may not have problems with reader retention; I am saying that the Meyer study of a weekly doesn't prove we do.

"- If ... more than 75% of my readers don't read the print Post, it also throws cold water on the old 'original content' chestnut (which has always bugged me, because people never define what they mean very well when they call for 'original content'). At any rate, if more than three-quarters of my readers don't read our print, then my 'repurposed' old news stories are 'original content' to them.

"- (The) Pew Research Center study claims to have found 20% of people use the Web for news, compared to just 6% two years ago. If true, hardly an indication of news' weakness as Web content. ... The Pew study found many people use Web sites as a supplement to traditional media, something we've found, at least anecdotally, with DPO readers. (People hear about a story from someone else who's read it in print and go online to read it, etc.)

"- Finally, I find an undercurrent in your column that newspapers should try to be everything to everybody (an impression reinforced by other things you've written about portals). I know that it's not fashionable for a person in this business to be seen as 'unvisionary,' but I don't agree with that feeling. Printed newspapers appeal to a certain segment of the total media market for printed products; I think the same will be true on the Web for services produced by newspapers. And, I don't think it's particularly wise nor practical from a business point of view for newspapers to try to be, well, little Yahoos. We should leverage our traditional strengths -- news, sports and classifieds.

"Lest I sound too carping, I did agree with some points in the June column, particularly those about freshness and breaking news. For me, at least at this moment, the most appropriate traditional-media models for an online news site are a good afternoon newspaper or a good news radio station (ironically, things that are almost extinct in their original form)."

Contact: Todd Engdahl,


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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