Circ slips and online gains

Via Romenesko, we learn that Rick Edmonds at the Project for Excellence in Journalism takes a closer look at newspaper circulation drops and find the news is worse than widely reported. Newspapers are boosting circ with a lot of discounted offers.

Then he turns his attention to claims by the NAA that online readership is refilling the bucket:

According to Nielsen/Net Ratings research numbers, 58 million people visited newspaper web sites in September and that led to a total audience increase of 8 percent over the previous year. The Nielsen study also estimates that the average visitor spent 41 minutes at newspaper websites—that is all sites, not those of a single local newspaper.

A closer look at those numbers, however, underscores the difficulty of the industry’s current business dilemma. If you divide that monthly total into a daily one, there were roughly 1.9 million people visiting newspaper web sites each day in September. By the same calculation, the average time spent online would be about 1.4 minutes per day. (A recent NAA/Scarborough study estimated that the typical reader spends a little less than 30 minutes with the daily edition of the printed newspaper and more than 45 minutes on Sunday.)

I’m no fan of the “visited in the past 30 days” metric. It’s a meaningless stat. But Rick’s math is no better. You can’t just simply take the “visited in September” number and divide it by 30. Site visitation is not that evenly distributed. Hidden within that 30-day number are people who visit every day (or multiple times per day), and people who visit once per week, and everything in between. I also wonder if it accounts for people consuming RSS feeds, or mobile audience?

Right now, there is no established metric for a newspaper.com to measure loyal, consistent audience. I believe it should be a number I call “audience market share,” which is the number of wired adults in a DMA divided by the number of local unique visitors on a daily basis. Generally, newspapers do about 2 to 4 percent of AMS, from what I can glean from available data and spot checking (a very unscientific method). I believe the goal should be between 12 and 15 percent.

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  • http://www.jacklail.com/blog jack lail

    I think there are so many ways to slice the data nobody knows what the right one is to use … In addition to the unique issue, you have whether it’s in-market or out … measurements based on panels, browser toolbars, phone surveys, log files, javascript and cookies … on and on. It would be a godsend to have a simple, clearly, understood metric for measuring audience. I know, everybody says there’s is THE one.

  • http://www.nlbelardes.com n.l. belardes

    I agree with Jack. I watched my account grow from just a few unique visitors to now around 2000 a day. But how much traffic is from spam sites, and how many hits aren’t counted? It’s confusing, especially when AVG says one thing, Google analytics says another, and my host company says yet another.

    And why the hell don’t you ever reply, Howie? This is conversation journalism, dammit!

    Just jarshin’.

    N.L.