News Right Now Drives Newspaper Readers to Web

The Outsell third annual News Users' research predicts continued steep drops in US newspapers' print circulation as consumers continue to gravitate toward the Internet for news. The firm forecasts 3.5% annual declines in both daily and Sunday circulation, leading to a low of 43 million Sunday newspaper readers by 2012, compared to more than 62 million in the early 1990s.

 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

News Now



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:"

  • 75% say they'd get their local news from a different free source
  • 10% say they would pay for a print subscription, if it included online access
  • 6% say they would pay "a small amount" to gain online access
  • 3% for some kind of "press pass"

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.

To view the news release, please visit Outsell here, or, to purchase the complete report, go here.


3 comments about "News Right Now Drives Newspaper Readers to Web".
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  1. Debbie Kwiatoski from Hudson Valley Business Journal, February 3, 2010 at 2:25 p.m.

    What very few of these kinds of studies, reports and commentaries ever take into account is the stark fact that - once mainstream, professional news operations can no longer support professional journalism - there will be no "free" online news outlets least none that have any actual credibility or track record. Blogs, Google/Amazon/AOL - sponsored "news" is not the same as, say the "New York Times" or "The Wall Street Journal"...or any other actual news organization with a track record for honesty, objectivity, reliability and non-bias. THAT kind of journalism will cease to exist and what's left may well be "free"...but didin't anyone ever tell you that you "usually get what you pay for?"

    When that happens...what's Google and Co. going to "aggregate?" Perez Hilton? The blogger next know, the guy who gets his source material from the real reporters?

    One more point regarding this study:
    While readership is always important to any news organization, if you only look at readership stats, you are ignoring what actually keeps a news organization afloat: Its advertising base.

    Now, media buyers (of course) follow readership numbers, but they also pay close attention to an ad's actual impact on consumers. (the old "Bang for the Buck"). Online advertising may be cheaper than print (which is why any free model for online newspapers will not work without a healthy print version - the numbers don't sustain it), but the industry also knows that it is cheaper because online ads of all sorts do not produce the same pay back results as print ads (last time I looked at the stats, it was something like 10 -1...).

    Also, unlike TV or even radio ads, you can't Tivo over them or flip a channel. They are right there in your face, giving you a website or a phone number, along with their "call to action." That's WHY print ads work so well -even in a diminished marketplace. But, I digress.

    The point is, studies that only pull one string out of the web give a very limited picture of what's actually going on in the news industry. To understand what's truly happening and to take away some reality-based prognostications for the future of print media, you really have to look at the whole spiderweb and understand how each individual thread impacts on every other one it connects with ...otherwise, you simply aren't getting at what's really going on.

    Is print media in trouble - and at a crossroads? Yes.

    Is going online or mobile going to "save it?"...Not unless we figure out how to pay the journalists, editors and creative teams a living wage - and the best model (so far) has been sustainable advertising support...Hey, even PBS and NPR court advertisers...they just call them "underwriters"....

  2. Bruce Wood, February 3, 2010 at 10:26 p.m.

    "Is it too late to force a change in reader attitude about the value of traditional newspaper content online?" you ask? TV viewers are paying for cable TV when TV was free. Airline travelers are paying for their baggage when it used to be free. Listeners are paying for satellite radio instead of getting it for free. Etc, etc.

    If the news the reader wants is not available online for free, then they will pay for it. Our weekly newspaper's readership has increased or remained steady over the past four years because you can't read our complete, original stories online unless you purchase them or subscribe to our e-Edition. Take at look here

    Debbie's comments are spot on. When there is nothing original left to aggregate, what are they going to use? Unfortunately, it will be too late to do much about it then unless newspapers charge for original online content now.

  3. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, February 4, 2010 at 3 a.m.

    Debbie - Have you read the book "Journalistic Fraud: How the New York Times Distorts the News?"

    It isn't a "right wing" book but, rather, clearly spells out how anyone can color any news by framing it with assumptions about life that might be only common to the type of person who was (is) willing to take a much lower salary than they would have gotten in the business world (I tried being a journalist in 1982 and wrote great articles, but had to switch to a business job to make a decent wage). The book goes into detail about how bias works as do the two books about bias from that insider Bernie G.

    Even in Iraq and Afghanistan we have bloggers doing a better job of reporting than the "professional journalists" who hid in their hotel rooms and repeated what they were seeing on blogs. We can expect almost all news to soon be reported as a service by people who have other jobs (maybe their companies or a non-profit will sponsor a PR person to report on the San Diego City Council meeting).

    I saw first-hand the depravity of the New York Times bias. I was called by star reporter Eduardo Porter on the phone and he did a 2 hour interview with me on how unconstitutional the International Marriage Broker Act was in that it forced foreign women to sign the background checks of US males before these women and the men can communicate with each other. I helped him interview a man and his millionaire fiance who was waiting for a US visa. Eduardo clearly saw the angle where older US feminists wanted to discredit the idea of US males marrying younger women with pro-marriage values. He wrote a decent story but, as he admitted himself (and you can call him to confirm), his feminist editors completely rewrote his story to make the law sound good and not even mention any discussion on how it might be unconstitutional in violating the Right to Assemble, or how discrediting foreign women as "mail order brides" was just a way of drinking fermented sour grapes. The article failed to mention that the woman in the sample couple was already financially successful and, quite the opposite, made it look like she was desperate to move to the USA for financial reasons and would have married any US man out of this need. This was a total lie but fit an ideological need for it to be true.

    I could provide other *personal* anecdotes that have convinced me that The New York Times has never had the slightest inclination to be fair about anything it prints and it richly deserves total bankruptcy. Others have written books about this. So will I. Eduardo's editors declared war on me that day. As I now have 6000 non-spammer Twitter followers, many of whom retweet what I write to hundreds of thousands of other people, revenge will be sweet.

    Haven't you seen the people walking away from free newspaper offers in malls with the words "Your editorial opinions disguised as news aren't worth lining my bird cage?" The NYTimes is no better than a blog...and is actually improving as it tries to compete with them (they have to be more honest).

    The decline and fall of the NYTimes (the name of the company will be transferred to another entity that can survive on $50 million per year) might be good for the Hudson Valley Business Journal as long as your publication doesn't follow their dishonest editorial lead.

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