This is the most unique visitors recorded since the NAA and Nielsen began tracking newspaper Web site audiences in 2004; the previous record was 73.3 million in the first quarter of 2009.
Although year-over-year comparisons are difficult because of a big increase in Nielsen's panel size in June, the active-reach figure appears to be remaining stable, as newspaper Web sites have hovered around 40% for the last two years.
Meanwhile, the actual number of unique visitors in the third quarter of 2009 represents an increase of about 8.5% over the third quarter of 2008, when they came in at around 68.2 million.
This growth is good news for newspapers, especially since it comes in an "off" news year -- one without Olympics or closely contested elections. Last year, some analysts expressed concern that newspaper Web site numbers would remain depressed after reaching record highs in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. But these fears have proven unfounded, as newspaper Web site audiences continue to grow.
Taking a somewhat longer view, the long-term growth of newspaper Web site audiences has been substantial. This year's third-quarter figure of 74 million represents an increase of 82.2% over 40.6 million unique visitors in the third quarter of 2004. Active reach increased from 27.6% of all U.S. Internet users to about 40%.
On the other hand, this impressive growth in audience only serves to highlight newspapers' continuing inability to monetize online audiences at anywhere near the rate of their legacy print products in their heyday.
Total newspaper online advertising revenues have declined for six straight quarters through the second quarter of 2009, according to the NAA. They are likely to continue declining in the third quarter -- in stark contrast to the 8% increase in audience size.
In 2007, the last year of positive growth in online revenues, they came to just under $3.2 billion -- 7% of the industry's total revenues, which topped $45 billion that year.
In the first half of 2009, Internet revenues totaled $1.35 billion, or just about 10% of total revenues. But the percentage increase compared to 2007 is due entirely to the steep decline in total revenues, which have fallen 39% from $21.9 billion in the first half of 2007 to $13.5 billion in the first half of this year.