Drive-by surfers peril news sites
That’s the troubling problem the Newspaper Association of America failed to mention this week, when it reported that the number of unique visitors at its members’ websites increased 12.3% to an all-time high of 199.1 million in the first three months of the year.
But an analysis of the first-quarter web traffic reported by the industry association determines that, by most other key measures, the relative popularity of newspaper websites has waned in the last year in spite of the industry’s professed commitment to aggressively building online products and revenues.
As you can see in the chart below, the growth in the key metrics of newspaper web activity grew explosively in 2006, decelerated in 2007 and slowed this year to the point that two of the four indicators actually declined.
In the first three months of this year, the average amount of time visitors spent on newspaper sites fell by 2.9% to 44 minutes and 18 seconds per month, or less than 1½ minutes per day. In the same period, the average number of pages viewed per unique site visitor dropped by 6.6% to 47.2 per month.
While the total number of page views rose by 4.9% to a record 9.4 billion for the first quarter of 2008, the increase was far short of the 51.9% increase achieved in 2006 and the 12.6% gain in 2007.
The decline in the average duration of sessions at newspaper web pages suggests that visitors are not utilizing the industry’s sites as primary destinations, but, rather, as places to episodically view individual articles highlighted by Google News, Drudge, Digg, blogs or any of the thousands of other places they might be.
This could be a big problem for an industry that already has enough to worry about. Here’s why:
If drive-by surfers continue to generate a growing proportion of newspaper traffic, will advertisers put a high enough value on these relatively fickle visitors to pay the premium rates necessary to continue funding these elaborate, content-rich websites?
I wouldn’t count on it.