A just-released Newspaper Association of America report says that newspaper web sites are adding unique visitors and growing faster than web site audiences overall.
The press release says:
An average of more than 59 million people (37.6 percent of all active Internet users) visited newspaper Web sites each month during the first quarter, a record number that represents a 5.3 percent increase over the same period a year ago, according to Nielsen//NetRatings NetView custom analysis,*" and "During the same time period, the overall Internet audience grew just 2.7 percent.
John Sturm, NAA head, says:
The fact that the newspaper Web site audience is growing at almost double the rate of the Internet audience as a whole validates the industry’s investment in digital innovation, and the ongoing attraction consumers have to newspapers online. Newspaper publishers have aggressively transformed their business models, continually providing ground-breaking content to consumers with their expanding digital portfolios.
This is a lovely sound bite, great to tell advertisers, but it would benefit from some context. For example, Nielsen also reported this year that the online dating space grew about 16%--far more than the newspaper category's 5.3. And Facebook grew, what--300%? So the ratio of growth is relative--comparing your category to ALL of the web has only relative merit.
Also, one wishes for more data on who these visitors are. I suspect that if all the data was available, it would reveal that newspapers' big challenge--how to replenish their stock of visitors and engage the 30 and under category -- would show continued decline year over year. NAA's release of numbers that show that only 19.4 percent looked at online movies or movie clip audio and video suggests this is not a very youthful or Web 2.0 group.
On the other hand, the stats do suggest that the audiences NAA members are courting are doing a MUCH better job than in the past at meeting their needs--viz these stats:
Nearly 42 percent of those who have visited newspaper Web sites have viewed streaming video in the past month. Traffic to blog pages at the top 10 newspaper sites increased more than 200 percent in December 2006 when compared to December 2005 (Nielsen//NetRatings, 2007).
And then of course, there's the kicker, the reason to read these stats at all:
Newspaper Web sites capture the majority of local online revenue in more than 95 percent of U.S. markets (Borrell Associates, 2007).
I'm a huge fan of local, always have been, and am heartened to see the pace of change at news sites accelerate--but hey, for all the self-congratulatory releases, 5.3% growth just doesn't sound like enough to kvell ... even as a means to keep your advertisers happy.