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NAA/Nielsen stats show newspapers own less than 1 percent of U.S. online audience page views, time spent

The NAA has issued another of its regular updates on the state of the U.S. daily newspaper Web audience. As usual, the numbers, sourced from Nielsen Online, sound impressive:

Newspaper Web sites attracted more than 70.3 million unique visitors in June (35.9 percent of all Internet users), according to a custom analysis provided by Nielsen Online for the Newspaper Association of America. Newspaper Web site visitors generated 3.5 billion page views during the month, spending 2.7 billion minutes browsing the sites over more than 597 million total sessions.

NAA mentions that Nielsen has changed its methodology (in part by increasing the sample size of its online usage survey to more than 230,000 panelists), so the numbers should not be compared with those issued in prior months. But just in case you do compare, they are nicely up in the unique visitor and pageview categories — so far so good.

Comparison with past performance is one way to put the numbers in context, but another that seems appropriate is to compare them with the total online audience. In other words, just how much of time spent online, and page views, are going to newspaper Web sites? And how do newspaper numbers compare with top Web brands? The answers are, unfortunately, rather dismal.

A few weeks back Nielsen issued some information, also based on its new methods, painting a picture of the total online audience in June. Combining those number with the ones put forward by NAA, here’s the whole picture in context (all figures for the month of June, all from Nielsen Online):

  • The total “Active Digital Media Universe” (Nielsen’s term for total U.S. unique visitors online during the month, both at home and at work): 195,974,309.
  • Of these, 70,340,277 or 35.89 percent visited a newspaper Web site. (On the other hand, 64 percent got their news elsewhere.)
  • The average member of the Active Digital Media Universe visited 2,569 Web pages. That adds up to 503,457,999,821 page views.
  • Of those 503 billion page views, 3,468,549,698 (3.5 billion) went to newspaper Web sites. That’s less than 1 percent of all page views, or 0.69 percent to be exact.
  • Nielsen says the average page view (in that universe of 503 billion) lasted 57 seconds.*  That translates to 7,971,418,330 hours spent online or 40 hours, 40 minutes and 33 seconds per person.
  • Of those 7.9 billion hours spent online, time spent at newspaper Web sites was 45,022,485 hours.  That’s less than 1 percent of all time spent online, or 0.56 percent.

Further context: the total audience as measured in unique visitors for the top eight online brands, individually, exceeded the audience for all newspapers combined.  Those eight, with their unique audiences, are: Google (147,778,000), Yahoo! (133,139,000), MSN/WindowsLive/Bing (111,352,000), Microsoft (96,071,000, AOL (92,705,000), YouTube (87,686,000), Facebook (87,254,000) and Fox Interactive (72,724,000). Most of these brands also far exceed the average time spent, in total, at newspaper sites (38 minutes, 24 seconds in June).  Time spent by the average visitor at Facebook, alone, was 4 hours, 39 minutes, or more than seven times the newspaper average.

The challenge to newspapers is not simply to improve their numbers over prior months, or to post numbers that look impressive at first blush — the challenge is to gain market share. To do this, newspapers need to build not only unique visitors, but visits per person, pages per visit, and time spent per visit. At less than 1 percent of page views or time spent, newspapers are barely on the radar screen.

The dialogue in the industry should not be about building paywalls, punishing aggregators, tweaking copyright laws or anything else that would constrict, rather than build, the online audience for newspaper content. And it should not be about “protecting print.”

The dialogue should be primarily about transforming newspapers into online-first digital enterprises. That’s what those eight brands I listed are, that’s what everyone working for them understands, that’s what drives every decision they make, and that’s how they are able individually to far outpull the entire newspaper industry in online audience share.

*The release as originally posted transposed some numbers but I’ve confirmed with Nielsen that 57 seconds is the correct time per page view.

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Ken Doctor    Aug. 25, 2014
“Things” editor, distribution editor, correspondent for progress — as newsrooms change, so do the ways they organize their human resources.
  • Frymaster

    So much to ridicule, so little time.

    First off, I’ve always doubted that Nielsen number. How many papers? Which ones? Who’s left out? How do they de-dupe? It’s a tricky business when you’re watching IP addresses. Two different IPs could be the same person _OR_ a single IP could represent several people using the same wi-fi. And if they’re still doing surveys…? Like people can actually remember all the 2,500 pages they visited in a month. (BTW, that is a GAUDY number.)

    Lastly, while it’s a little skeevy to compare time spent on a newspaper site to to time spent on Facebook – where there is so much opportunity to input information and get rapid feedback from other users – it’s a comparison the pape’s should take seriously.

    The reason they get mega-visitors and micro-minutes per is that there is NOTHING TO DO except read the stories. Comments on newspaper websites? Not worth the time to read. I could learn as much watching out-takes from Fox and Friends.

    So, newspapers, give us something to freaking DO on your websites, and we’ll hang around a bit.

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  • Martin Langeveld

    Frymaster: Regarding Nielsen stats: (a) they seem to have upgraded their methodology as of June, (b) comparing the Nielsen newspaper subset to the Nielsen “Digital Universe” numbers should at least give a valid ratio, even if they’re off the mark on one side or the other of the equation. IOW, it’s not like I’m comparing a Compete result with an Alexa result. And, say Nielsen is under-measuring newspaper site visits by 50 percent — that still means newspaper have only a tad more than 1 percent share.

    With your other points I agree 100 percent. I’ve mentioned before that the lack of social networking or other ways to engage readers is one big way newspapers are missing the boat. Thinking like a digital enterprise means they’d realize that and work on it.

  • Martin Langeveld

    Frymaster: Also, check your history log, and ask some less-intensive Web users – 2500 pages is not that much to rack up in a month. And I assume Nielsen has automated ways of collecting this info and doesn’t rely on recall surveys like the old TV diaries.

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  • Bill Truett

    You claim that

    “Of these, 70,340,277 or 35.89 percent visited a newspaper Web site. (On the other hand, 64 percent got their news elsewhere.)”

    Get your facts straight, this was not asked did you visit the website for news. It’s total website usage. So 64% got their news elsewhere is a not true. It’s total usage. Unless Nielsen asked which sites did you go to for news, you can make this statement and it was 35.89 percent. So 64% was be bad news for newspaper websites. That’s not the case.

  • Martin Langeveld

    @Bill Truett: It’s not bad news that 64% of Web users stayed away from newspaper Web sites? It’s a fact that those 64% got their news elsewhere, because we know they didn’t visit newspaper sites at all. Maybe they got it from printed newspapers, maybe from carrier pigeons, maybe from the guy at the next desk, but not from newspaper Web sites. I don’t believe that conclusion is invalid.

  • Howard Weaver

    This is useful data, and thanks for flagging it, but I don’t think your conclusions hold up.

    “Active Digital Media Universe” is a meaningless point of comparison. That includes e-commerce, porn, news, MySpace, music, ad infinitum. A huge percentage of that use isn’t and won’t ever be even remotely about news. Never was, isn’t now. Bad comparison; that’s not our competition, or our hunting ground.

    It’s also not true that the 65% who didn’t visit a news site “got their news elsewhere.” Chances are a lot of them didn’t get their news *anywhere* and weren’t interested. Again, t’was always thus. Not everybody who read the comics or classifieds got the paper looking for news, and that that’s far less true today.

    The important measurement, it seems to me, is how news sites do in serving people who are looking for news. Your interpretation of these figures sheds little light on that essential question.

    I know news companies can do better at this, and have argued how, most recently proposing collaborative, mass scale aggregation of curated news. That can be hugely profitable — but still won’t capture the porn audience.

  • Martin Langeveld

    Howard, I’m going to continue to disagree with the notion that comparing those stats is not a valid exercise. That’s like saying it would not have been valid, in the analog days, to examine newspaper reading time as a share of total reading time, or of total media consumption time, or of total leisure activity time. Newspaper publishers looked at that, and fretted about their declining attention share in those days as well. And the “total universe” back then included reading porn and fluff as well.

    Sure, it’s easy to select comparisons by which newspaper stats might start to look better, such as their share of all online news reading. And “how news sites do it serving people who are looking for news” is an entirely different question.

    The NAA puts out numbers without context but claims they are positive; I’m giving them some context; the context shows that newspaper sites are barely visible in the online world and have been bypassed by a slew of digitally-focused enterprises, and the reason is that newspapers, by and large, have failed to truly orient themselves in a digital direction.

  • tom

    Sound bites and “Headline News” don’t make for engagement. Ironically there is a long tail of people willing to provide context, analysis and fact checking, but this is another trend newspapers have decided to fight rather then embrace.

  • Pulling down the ivory towers

    Just for once I would like to see this argument conducted by someone who isn’t either a media exec – or former media exec – or worse yet a member of the vaunted ivory tower of academia who knows nothing about the forces of capitalism or the concept of power.

    Just about every one of the unique sites you list above is chock-filled with content that it receives from some element of the media universe. Of course when Yahoo or MSN runs an AP story, they HAVE ALREADY PAID for it. Why then shouldn’t a newspaper also charge for someone to use their content? As for You Tube, it is a mosh pit of stolen material, and of course it STILL doesn’t make any money.

    The current model for newspapers is unsustainable, plain and simple. Newspaper execs just need to check their egos and realize that having less readers, but more paying customers is the only way to survive. Newspaper heads are arrogant and in some way justly deserve their fates by ignoring for years what was going on right around them.

    Of course I’m sure everyone in academia thinks this will give way to some bright shiny utopian future when citizen journalists will band together to keep our government honest. Total online news organizations with maybe 2 employees will be able to do in-depth reporting and actually pay attention to a city council meeting. This elitist thinking, of course, ignores the true nature of power. The only reason anyone in Washington or City Hall even now reacts to news coverage is based upon a fear that it could result in a loss of their power. In other words, power respects power.

    If newspapers and/or media organizations don’t figure a way to survive, you won’t have anything that comes close to replicating what exists before. Maybe just once those in the ivory tower and those who run the companies could actually attempt to solve the problem that exists than trying so hard to prove the other side wrong.

  • Martin Langeveld

    @Pulling, sorry for being a former media exec blogging on an academic site. Yes, YouTube doesn’t seem to make money, but it’s owned by Google which probably makes more money than the entire newspaper industry does at the moment. That’s why I agree with you that the industry is unsustainable, but I’m not sure what you’re suggesting as a solution. More paying customers – I agree, but who, paying for what? I think more of them will have to be advertisers than subscribers (as it ever was, to echo Howard). Citizen journalism utopia – nobody is seriously suggesting that’s where we’re going, other than having that in the mix. “Online-first digital enterprise,” my suggestion, is not a throwaway mantra; it has enormous implications for a newspaper that decides to embrace that as its goal; many have paid lip service but few haven begun to take the big steps needed to get there.

  • http://KnightScienceJournalismFellowships Phil Hilts

    Have a question—Was the reading time for news online calculated by applying the average reading time to news vs. other sites, or was data taken separately on time reading news versus time reading other things. I’m wondering whether people looking at a news page spend more time on it, versus other pages.

  • Pulling down the ivory towers

    The point I’m making is that forcing people to pay will become a reality because there is just no other way to go. In the end, market forces will win out. Some day even the money for Twitter will run out and it will have to be filled with something that pays the light bill so to speak.

    What is coming in the future is an INFORMATION DIVIDE. That divide will consist of people who pay for good information, information that has currency and has value, versus people who rely on information they get for free. The quality of this free information will be of somewhat dubious nature, or it will have to appeal to the widest possible audience. So if you do celebrity news and you get loads of traffic, you can remain free because your pageviews will generate enough traffic that you get some sort of online revenue. But information of much more specific, or let’s face it, boring but important nature, will not generate the type of traffic that will generate much online revenue. So you charge that select audience that needs it for their own reasons, probably primarily for commerce. Or you charge for something that a highly motivated group, say sports fans, is willing to fork over money for.

    The remaining question is what about the great big middle – the stuff that no one wants to really read, or really pay for. Maybe that middle gets filled by the non-profit foundation journalism sites of the world. Who knows? But it’s clear we are moving to a moment of clarity where survival trumps all other motives.

  • Martin Langeveld

    The reading time on newspaper sites was measured separately by Nielsen. From the first link, NAA reports (from its Nielsen data) 2,701,349,082 minutes spent viewing 3,468,549,698 page views, which works out to 46.7 seconds per newspaper site page – or less than the 57 seconds Nielsen reports as the average for all Web page views.

    @Pulling: I agree about the divide although I think the paid side will be very specific, very narrow, very deep niches, and won’t generate more than 10 percent of the overall revenue for news. Sports fans in general – no. Lacrosse fans, maybe. Fans of a specific team – more likely. “Stuff [in the middle] that no one wants to really read” – why bother having anyone write it?

  • Howard Weaver

    Google doesn’t make more than the whole newspaper industry.

    Google’s first quarter revenue was $5.5 billion, or something like projected $22 billion annually.

    Can’t locate a total newspaper revenue number off hand (includes circulation revenue) but ad revenue for 2008 was $34.7 billion, considerably ahead of GOOG.

  • Martin Langeveld

    First quarter newspaper advertising revenue per NAA was $6.62 billion; circulation revenue might bring that to $8.5 or $9 billion. So yes, Google’s revenue is running at only 60 percent that of the whole newspaper industry.

    But “making money” in my book is profits, not revenue. Google made $2.9 billion profit in the first six months of 2009; for the full year 2008 it earned $4.23 billion; it could be on a $5+ billion pace this year.

    NAA doesn’t publish profit numbers, but for the first six months of 2009, here are the profit numbers of some of the top public newspaper firms: Gannett, $156 million; McClatchy, $4.3 million; NYTimes, ($35.1 million loss); Lee, $3.6 million; Scripps ($220 million loss, first quarter; second quarter not yet reported. Q1 would be included a $216 million writedown). I could go on down the list of public firms, but these represent 28 percent of the total circulation. I excluded Tribune because it hasn’t reported, and News because it includes major non-US assets. Even excluding all extraordinary items, even assuming the second half is better, it’s clear the industry as a whole won’t top Google’s annual pace of $4 to $5 billion in profit.

  • AC

    Most “newspapers” no longer contain much, if any, actual news (sort of like TV news, I suppose). I’ve watched the LA Times turn itself from a world class journalistic entity into an pathetic joke – in a Zel driven self-destructive course to oblivion. Their ‘Business’ section has morphed into a bad clone of Variety (and if I wanted to read Variety, I’d read Variety).

    Pay to read their drivel online? I don’t want read it at all, not anywhere, not ever.

    But, I’ll give this out free: papers should put advertising on the websites – not on the main page (where nobody will see it), but on the individual article pages. Deep linking isn’t a problem for intelligent people, it’s an opportunity which the idiots ‘managing’ newspapers aren’t exploiting.

    Perhaps the newspapers should hire some competent people in upper management, as well?

  • Andrew Smith

    Surely the web is not a single market? Search engines, social networking sites (eg Facebook), news etc are separate markets, albeit with fuzzy boundaries.

    It doesn’t make sense to see it as a loss to news sites every time someone visits to download a copy of Half Life.

    That doesn’t mean news sites don’t need to grow their market.

  • King Kaufman

    Pulling: Total online news organizations with maybe 2 employees will be able to do in-depth reporting and actually pay attention to a city council meeting. This elitist thinking, of course, ignores the true nature of power. The only reason anyone in Washington or City Hall even now reacts to news coverage is based upon a fear that it could result in a loss of their power. In other words, power respects power.

    How many people worked for Talking Points Memo in 2002? Think Trent Lott respects ‘em?

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  • Stan Spire

    What about the other part of the numbers game – people without access to high speed internet service? I’m an “income sensitive” surfer with slowpoke dial-up at home. It takes forever for the local rag’s site to load. And some of it I can’t access because it’s not compatible with dial-up.

    I do use the public library with its computers but that’s limited to one hour. Maybe the numbers would go up when affordable broadband becomes commonplace. Until then, newspaper sites are low priority for me.

    Until the US gets its on the ball with broadband, numbers will be limited.


  • Martin Langeveld

    Stan, I sympathize, but online publishers just can’t constrict their offerings to fit the slowest connections. Right now, 95 percent of active internet users have broadband, and 63 percent of all homes have broadband, while less than 10 percent still have dial-up. ( ) I can’t find a link for you right now, but elsewhere I’ve found that (a) personal computers are now in about 80 percent of U. S. homes, and that adoption rate has leveled off — that last 20 percent will be slow going; (b) nearly all of those, like 79 percent, have an internet connection of some kind; (c) the broadband penetration, now 63 percent, is trending up to that 80 percent level as well, and will likely get there in a few years.

  • Stan Spire


    I didn’t mean to imply that the problem was with online publishers. The problem is with the structure of the medium, the lack of affordable, almost universal broadband that would increase the overall numbers.

    For comparison, take digital television. I live in a rural area with lots of mountains and with the DTV switch many people can’t receive local stations anymore, people who can’t afford cable or satellite reception. I wonder what the ratings will be like after the switch.

    DTV by itself isn’t bad but the way it was implemented is the problem, moving stations to UHF frequencies with lower powered transmitters. I don’t expect any stations to switch back to analog. The trouble is how it’s being delivered.

    Bad or limited medium = fewer users.


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  • Ric

    Putting newspaper companies’ performance online in context with Facebook etc is perfectly valid.

    If newspapers’ traditional revenue is leaking to online, they need to make a success of online to have a chance of pulling some of that back.

    These stats show that people are not using this newer medium for direct replicas of newspapers. They prefer to use it for communication and often to create their own content. They want to feel *part* of something.

    These are services, tools and features that newspapers have proven unable or unwilling to provide.

    For too long, the industry seems to have assumed that it can milk print for as long as it remains profitable and then suddenly flick a switch and command the same attention and market share online when it needs to do so or when someone shows them the business model.

    These stats show that it won’t be so easy. In this still transitional phase, newspapers should be making the best use of this time to learn the skills and mindset that give them a chance of connecting with people into the future.

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