The study surveyed the total local online readership of 51 top U.S. newspapers and found that almost none have experienced any growth since 2007, the point at which the online versions had been available for about a decade, making it a mature product. In fact, more than half have lost online readers since 2011.
Yes, consumers go online for news — but most readers go to news aggregators, like Yahoo News, Google News, CNN.com, MSN and other non-newspaper sites. The financial performance of online newspapers is “underwhelming,” the study found, with total newspaper industry digital advertising revenue increasing from $3 billion to only $3.5 billion from 2010 to 2014.
In a separate book, one of the profs opines that readers avoid online newspapers because in comparison to their print versions, they’re "inferior goods." One 2012 survey found that 66% of users prefer the print version of their daily newspaper over the Web edition.
I could not agree more. About a year ago I examined all of the pricing alternatives for the three newspapers I read daily. The New York Times made it clear that it no longer wanted me as a home delivery customer by making digital access FAR more affordable. So I got a tablet (that the savings more than paid for) and made the switch. The Wall Street Journal, by contrast, made home delivery just about as affordable as digital access, so I still have that tossed down the driveway every day.
Now I spend about 45 minutes with the WSJ, reading every section (OK, I don't really read the finance stuff) and seeing just about every print advert. Since I read it first, if it has the same story as the NYT, I often skip the Times version, especially for local NYC news. When I switch on the digital NYT, there is an ad for about every three inches of text — which, since it is small, ugly and often mistargeted, I ignore completely. Who among us does not have a full-blown case of banner blindness now? So, in effect, the NYT is making no money off my digital presence other than the access fee. I have opted out of all of its partner emails.
I admit I am an old-school newspaper reader who doesn't mind the blackened fingertips, nor that the paper won't always fold in half easily. When I read a printed newspaper, I see so much more. My eyes scan every headline, see every ad. I can quickly scan stories or save them for later (opinion pages are great for killing muted commercial TV time during football). I know where to find stuff in print, hardly ever online. It is usually an immersive experience. Digital simply is not. It is hit and run.
I have to agree totally with the profs: In comparison to their print versions, online newspapers are "inferior goods."
So, too, apparently, are the economics.