Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nieman Journalism Lab uses Web traffic data to give good advice to newspapers

Martin Langeveld, writing on the Nieman Journalism Lab web site, offers valuable perspective on newspaper Web traffic.

Using the latest Nielsen Online research, he shows that newspapers are getting less than 1% of page views and that less than 1% of total time spent on the Web is spent on newspaper Web sites.

That's all newspapers together. All newspapers.

The total audience in unique visitors for the top 8 online brands exceeded the audience for all newspapers combined, he reports.

So before the industry gets too excited about pay walls - the latest blast coming from Rupert Murdoch - it would do well to consider Langeveld's advice.

"The challenge to newspapers is not simply to improve their numbers over prior months, or to post numbers that look impressive at first blush — the challenge is to gain market share," Langeveld writes.

This is hard to do. It's the measure I used to judge our performance at the Rocky Mountain News, and that was just against other media companies. Adding market share without doing something new seems to be almost impossible.

Langeveld writes, "the dialogue in the industry should not be about building paywalls, punishing aggregators, tweaking copyright laws or anything else that would constrict, rather than build, the online audience for newspaper content. And it should not be about 'protecting print.'”

"The dialogue should be primarily about transforming newspapers into online-first digital enterprises."

I fundamentally agree. However I think some of those other issues are worth considering, as long as newspapers think online first. A pay wall for certain content, for example, might make some sense. But it has to have real value. (Basic news, in my view, doesn't qualify.) Taking a share of transactions could be a boon. But first newspapers have to enable transactions. Laws are worth examining. And not just copyright. How about limits on what a newspaper can own? But Langeveld uses the Newspaper Association of America's own numbers to make a sobering point. One worth listening to. When the industry thumps its chest, it might remember that the tale of the tape isn't very encouraging about its performance in the ring.


  1. Thanks John. With regard to my paywall comment, I only meant to indict across-the-board paywall thinking. I agree that a carefully calibrated (to steal a Presidential term) paid content system is worth exploring; in fact it happens to be a feature of the startup outfit I'm involved with. A post or two ago I suggested the NYTimes should be taking such an approach — charging for specific niche content areas — rather than the blanket $50 subscription it was testing in a survey.

  2. I agree with you about the NYTimes, Martin. That's why I think the membership model has possibilities. It would put news organizations in the position of finding out what users want from them and delivering it, many times as a value-added service.

  3. A pretty big buzzword in the online community right now is "freemium" which I think isn't a terrible idea for newspapers.

    Not a big fan of paywalls of any size (as a user, i'll find my info elsewhere), but what freemium does is give the users 100% of the content they're used to for free, but if they want more comprehensive content or different content streams or maybe some sort of app or database model, they pay a reasonable amount for it.

    I'm not talking about just pay archives, because pay archives are ridiculous in the age of Google. This would have to be legitimate extras.

    -Bryan Robinson (

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