For example, The Washington Post.com, with 9.5 million unique visitors, saw an increase of 12%--while the LATimes.com, with 8.0 million unique visitors, enjoyed a rise of 73%.
But the success of newspapers on the Internet only serves to highlight the accelerating collapse of the industry, which has seen print ad revenues tumble for several years straight, joined recently by online revenues as well.
The newspaper Web site stats were undoubtedly positive, although they were bolstered somewhat by the 2008 presidential election. Monthly unique visitors in the fourth quarter were higher than the annual average, at 68.2 million--an increase of 8.6% over 62.8 million in the same period of 2007.
However, Boston.com, run by The Boston Globe, received fewer visitors, Nielsen Online said. The number of unique visitors to Boston.com fell by 6% to 4.1 million in December.
Still, the overall trend is unmistakable: NAA President and CEO John F. Sturm noted that "newspapers' digital audience has grown 60% in the last three years."
The fourth-quarter figures for 2008 represent 41% of all active Web users in the United States. On average, they spent 45 minutes per month visiting newspaper Web sites, generating an average of 3.2 billion page impressions per month. That's an increase of 7.8% over the same period in 2007.
But the big increases in Web traffic simply are not translating into increased online revenues.
In fact, the latter trend appears to be headed in the opposite direction. Fourth-quarter figures are not yet available from the NAA, but the figures for earlier quarters of 2008 were not encouraging. Online revenues slumped 2.4% in the second quarter and 3% in the third. As the economic downturn gained speed in the fourth quarter, it would be surprising if the most recent figures bucked the trend.
The decline in online revenues, while small in dollar terms, is still a crushing blow to the newspaper industry, as the digital medium held out the primary hope for newspapers, which have seen their print ad revenues implode due to Internet competition.
The collapse began with classified ad revenues, where they face competition from free services like Craigslist--but in recent years, the decline spread to national and retail advertising as well. In the first three quarters of 2008, newspapers' total print and online revenues declined 12.8%, 15.1% and 18.1%, respectively. In the third quarter, they reached their lowest level since the first quarter of 1996, dropping to $8.9 billion.