Printed Newspapers Losing Ground To Their Internet Sisters?

Here’s some research I’ve uncovered related to newspapers and their websites. What’s important to note is that your results from newspaper advertising (which are likely down) does not necessarily mean that newspapers are worthless. Rather, it’s possible that although people are seeing your ads, they do not perceive the need to act now. Here’s the data:

According to the 2008 Readership Institute, Northwestern University tracking study of newspaper and online readership in 100 U.S communities, reported by Mary Nesbitt, Readership Behavior Scores (calculated on a 1-7 scale) among the general adult population have averaged 3.4 over the last six years, with variations likely due, in whole or part, to seasonal variations. With non-readers out of the mix, readers of the local daily newspaper registered a 4.7 score this year, a level that has actually risen slowly since the first measurement in 2002.

Some of the key findings of the study are reported by the writer as follows:

  • Readership among 18-24-year-olds in the general population continues to slowly decline; but the habit is fairly stable for 45-plus
  • People who read newspapers say they spend, on average, 27 minutes with them on weekdays, and 57 minutes on Sundays. The first figure has stayed stable, but the latter figure has been slowly dropping since 2002
  • Readers continue to engage with the newspaper, on average, more than five days a week
  • On average they complete 60 percent of the paper on weekdays and 62 percent on Sundays, also stable habits says the write
Change In Print Newspaper Consumption by US Adult Internet Users Since Reading at a Newspaper Website (% of respondents)
Readership 2003 2005 2006 2008
More often





About the same





Less often





Source: Readership Institute, July 2008

The penetration of newspaper Web sites is still quite low in most communities, though it should be noted that only the main sites were measured, not related sites whose ownership consumers might not recognize.

62 percent of respondents said they had never visited the local newspaper’s Website, and only 14 percent said they had visited between the last seven to 30 days, numbers that have improved only a little over the last five years. The Site Usage Measurement (SUM) score for the general population is only 1.26 on a 1-7 scale. When non-users are removed from the sample, Web site users score 2.54.

Readers are more engaged with print than with the Web site, according to the report, with ratings for four experiences that are significantly higher for the newspaper than for the site:

  • “gives me something to talk about”
  • “looks out for my interests”
  • “ad usefulness”
  • “touches and inspires me”

The trends are clear, concludes the writer, that low-reading groups continue to take their low-reading habits with them as they age. The very youngest adults have media and news habits very different from their parents. For the first time in six years RBS scores are dropping among people who also look at the newspaper’s Website.

So what does it mean to advertisers? Well, don’t count out print paper for reach. I believe that today’s tough market conditions has led to less direct results from advertising, rather than the commonly held belief today that print newspapers’ days are over. What needs to be revised is our expectations that print newspapers will deliver immediate results. Give it time, but of course, be sensitive to the overall budget.