Newspaper Web sites attracted a record 68.3 million unique visitors in the third quarter of 2008-- equal to 41.4% of all American Internet users, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
Based on a custom analysis of Web traffic by Nielsen Online, the number reflects newspapers' continuing success in building their online audience and holding their own against online competitors. However, it also highlights their failure to effectively monetize this large online readership.
The third-quarter figure represents a 15.8% increase over newspaper Web sites' unique visitors in the same period last year. Average monthly page views increased 25.2% in the same comparison, to 3.5 billion per month, for a total 10.5 billion in the quarter. The NAA pointed out that these figures are records not only for the third quarter of the year, but any quarter measured since 2004.
Noting that newspaper Web sites are benefiting from interest in the upcoming presidential election and the unfolding economic crisis, NAA President and CEO John F. Sturm added that newspaper Web sites also set records in terms of the number of visitors per month, page views, pages viewed per person, duration of visits, and visits per person.
This good news for newspapers suggests they are well-positioned vis-à-vis online competitors, leveraging their editorial authority and reputations to attract large audiences of Internet users.
However, the audience figures are also troubling, as continuing growth in readership has not translated into substantial increases in online advertising revenue; in fact, many newspaper publishers are seeing online ad revenue decline. This could be disastrous, as newspapers desperately need online revenues to offset losses on the print side.
Although third-quarter revenue figures from the NAA are not yet available, the second-quarter numbers weren't encouraging. Total print revenues declined 16% to $8.83 billion, continuing a two-year decline. Even worse, total online revenues slipped 2.4% to $776 million, marking the first such reversal since the NAA began tracking Internet revenues separately in 2003.
Internet revenues are falling, in part, because newspaper Web sites have relied heavily on online "upsells" from print classified listings. As the number of such listings has plummeted, there are simply fewer opportunities for these kinds of online add-ons.