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Dec. 18, 2008, 7:03 p.m.

Registration down, RSS ads still rare on big U.S. newspaper sites

Newspaper websites became a whole lot easier to read in 2008. Just 11 of the top 100 American newspapers require readers to register with a username, password, and other data before viewing at least some content, according to a new survey by The Bivings Group. That’s down from 29 newspaper sites in 2007.

The changes may have gone unnoticed because 4 of the top 10 newspapers — The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and Arizona Republic — still require some form of registration on their websites. (Oddly, Bivings ranks newspapers by print circulation. While the Republic is 10th in print, it’s 22nd in web traffic. Maybe because the paper compels its readers to register before they can leave comments on the site?)

Registration can be useful in customizing websites and collecting data for advertisers, but users mostly just find it annoying. Newspaper sites once embraced the technique, and registration actually rose from 23 of the top 100 in 2006 to 29 in 2007, according to Bivings. That trend appears to have completely reversed itself.

TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb have already posted quality summaries of the report, and you can read the full, 28-page PDF here.

Pretty much everything you need to know, however, is found in this chart. Video is universal, podcasting is waning, and mobile is on the rise — just like the rest of the web. Newspaper sites have also largely embraced comments (75 of the top 100) and bookmarking sites like Digg and Delicious (92).

One web trend that didn’t extend to newspapers in 2008 is advertising on RSS feeds — which isn’t new but went mainstream in the last two years as several popular websites began running ads in their feeds. Google’s Feedburner service began offering ads this year as well.

Still, just one newspaper site in the top 100 runs advertising on its RSS feeds, according to Bivings. I can’t confirm that it’s truly just one, but if so, it’s The Washington Post, which runs unobtrusive Google ads on some items in its main feed. They’re not particularly useful but not annoying, either, and it’s a little bit of extra revenue for the Post Company. Seems like a no-brainer for other newspapers to follow suit.

POSTED     Dec. 18, 2008, 7:03 p.m.
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