The research underscores the dramatic effect that aggregators such as Google and Yahoo have had on both print and online readership. For "news right now," 57% of news users now go to digital sources, up from 33% a few years ago. 31% are likelier to turn to an aggregator than a newspaper site (8%) or other site (18%).
Outsell analyst Ken Doctor notes that "... Google's effect on the newspaper industry is particularly striking... Google is driving some traffic to newspapers... (but) also taking a significant share away... 44% of visitors to Google News scan headlines without accessing newspapers' individual sites."
The compelling reality and foundation of Outsell's executive summary of this year's News Users survey is that as digital news media attracts us with its immediacy, interactivity, and intrigue of the new it takes more of our time. Therefore, less time spent on non-traditional news media.
The survey supports seven major conclusions out of the survey, as follows:
1. The Internet Is Now the Go-To News Briefing Source
When we want to know what's happening, a majority turn to the internet first. Power News Users (those that access news more than once a day in any form) lead the way, as digital news takes the leadership position throughout the day and even makes significant inroads in the news first thing in our busy days.
2. Newspaper Daily Usage Continues To Slip
Readers report a 10 point drop in usage of the newspaper in just three years, and continuing plans to trim their newspaper habits.
3. Paid Online Content Is No Panacea for the Industry
The target group for paid digital news appears to be no larger than 10%, according to respondents. If a local site put up a pay wall, three of four readers say they'd go elsewhere and to find "free" news.
4. Online Reading Habits Are Gelling, With Aggregators, Niche Sites, and Newspaper Sites Retaining Their Places
News-search aggregators are the big winners as habits gel, doubling their share in three years, as readers move to comfort with digital reading. This movement benefits news-search aggregator sites, online newspaper sites, and other niche sites, though unevenly, with readers turning increasingly to online newspaper sites for local news, but going direct to national sites of all kinds to serve their wide interests.
5. Google and News Media: The Emerging Ping-Pong Relationship
A majority of Power News Users note that they use Google to regularly scan headlines and summaries, without going to newspaper sites. In addition, news readers report ping-ponging back and forth between Google and news sites, hooked on Google's search allure.
6. The Habits of Power News Users, Half the Population, Are Worth Studying
Power News Users have significantly cut back their legacy reading, viewing, and listening, with newspapers, TV, and radio impacted. Their digital usage remains apace. Their usage of smartphones and news video, and willingness to comment on stories, is a harbinger of mainstream use to come.
7. Key Areas Where Newspapers Retain Strength, and Where They Don't
Local topics, news, family events, and entertainment, remain the domain of local companies. National topics are going both profoundly digital and national.
And a summary of some of the findings in the study includes the following:
When readers want the briefing on the news, they turn in great numbers to online sites, reducing their use of traditional news sources, TV, newspapers, and radio. When news users wanted to know what was happening before they dashed off to work, they used to either switch on the TV or radio or fetch the paper at the door, and give a quick read. Now each of those behaviors has been reduced, and significantly so, in three years.
Open-web aggregators now claim 19% of first-thing-in-the-day use, up from just 10% three years ago and now moving into a virtual tie with newspapers for second position, with TV's lead shrinking. Business, sports and political sites have markedly gained audience, moving from 4% to 7%, while online newspapers show good growth as well, from 3% to 6%
TV (dropping from 36% to 30% over three years), newspapers (dropping from 23% to 19%), and radio (dropping 20% to 15%) have all suffered losses since the 2006 data.
Examining users' habits for accessing news "first thing in the day," the profile of use by Power News Users is fairly similar to that of the non-Power segment, a group we'll call Regular News Users. Power News Users do, though, show greater use of aggregators, and lesser usage of newspapers.
News Usage (% of Respondents, 2009)
First Thing in Your Day
Power News Users
Regular News Users
Power News Users
Regular News Users
Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL News
Other online sites
Source: Outsell's News User Survey 2009
Once readers are out in their daily lives, they are turning increasingly to digital sources for "news right now." Added together, the aggregators, newspapers online, and other online sites, represent a clear majority of digital sources for immediacy. A couple of years ago, only 33% used digital sources for "news right now."
TV has lost news right share, from 43% to 30%, while newspapers have lost more than half of their "right now" audience, moving from 8% to 3%. Radio moved down from 10% to 7%.
Power News Users, though, continue to be more likely to be daily readers, as compared to Regular Users, 41% to 37%. The report notes that Power News Users use newspapers less than Regular Users first thing in the morning. As news-aware people, though, they're omnivorous, apparently coming back to newspapers later in their days for depth and breadth.
Worrisome for daily newspaper publishers, readers report less usage of the daily newspaper overall. Overall, 39% of those surveyed report daily newspaper usage. That's down 10 percentage points in three years, closely paralleling actual drops in reported circulation. The drop in daily usage is reflected in the spiraling decline in circulation, with US newspapers reporting their first double-digit drop from March through September 2009. Further, there's no end in sight for circulation losses for daily newspapers.
"Paid content" provided a rallying cry for much of 2009, as the industry searched for ways to pry revenues out of readers online. In a free, good-enough content world, that continues to be a difficult proposition. As we approach 2010, publishers are slowly readying experiments to test out models, largely around "metering" and niche content lines.
In the survey, Outsell went directly to readers to try to size how large a market of potential payers might exist. Asking readers about their willingness to pay for online content if free access "was restricted to paid [print] subscribers:"
Power News Users are a little more likely to be willing to pay, 11% saying they'd subscribe or renew to get online news, compared to 9% of Regular News Users.
Readers see printed news as worth paying for, though fewer of them read newspapers. When readers, many of them the same print readers, go online, they expect the news to be free. The hardest question here confronting publishers: Is it too late to force a change in reader attitude about the value of traditional newspaper content online? With proliferating choices, and local ones, available online, online subscriptions may have left the barn, concludes the report.