Newspaper sites: Get past your own numbers

Vin Crosbie takes a look at new NAA claims about newspaper Web site growth and find some numbers don’t add up.

This just in! According to the latest figures from the Newspaper Association of America Newspaper Audience Database project, more Americans visit newspaper websites than purchase printed editions. That is, more do sometime during a month. The NAA announced that more than 55.5 million Americans now visit newspaper websites at least once per month and this total grew by more than 31 percent during the past year. Sounds like a good PR bullet for newspapers.

But monthly is the big caveat there. Slightly more than 54 million Americans purchase a printed edition daily, but 55.5 million visit a newspaper website at least once per month. Conflating daily print and monthly online figures makes it appear that the American newspaper industry isn’t so much losing daily print readers as gaining equally frequent new readers online. That isn’t true.

I think it’s hard to argue that newspaper.coms aren’t capturing new users, and retaining some who might have dropped from the sphere of influence without the Web site, but I also think we should be very careful about how much we believe about news site growth.

My concern is many publishers and site managers will look at these numbers, look at their own stats and say, “Woohoo! We’re doing great,” when really, they aren’t.

Newspaper news sites have many, many miles to travel yet before they can rest on their laurels.

Point of disclosure: I’m on the NAA New Media Federation board. These views are my own and completely my own.

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