Thursday, November 01, 2007

Reality check

Newspaper publishers congratulating themselves for meager gains in their online audience ought to take a look at the competition to see how far behind they really are.

The average time spent at the 10 most active newspaper websites between March and August was 12 minutes per month, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

By comparison, the average time spent in September on sites operated by the 10 largest online companies was 1 hour, 14 minutes and 40 seconds, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, the same agency providing online traffic data to the NAA.

In other words, the average visitor spent 24 seconds per day in a 30-day month on a newspaper web site, as compared with an average of nearly 2½ minutes per day on the 10 sites operated by the web leaders.

Thus, surfers spent 6.2x more time on sites operated by the likes of Google, Microsoft or Yahoo than they did on the sites of such papers as the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today. (The full comparison of the Top Ten sites in each category is shown below.)

The statistics for Google aggregate traffic for its eponymous search engine, YouTube, the Orkut social site, Google maps, Gmail and much more. Yahoo’s traffic includes the portal itself, as well as such kin as Flickr, Hot Jobs and the like. Ditto, for Microsoft and the others.

While it stands to reason that the multiple online venues operated by the web giants are bound to attract more traffic than the one-trick-pony sites operated by even our biggest and most prestigious newspapers, it is important for publishers to get real about the breadth and depth of the true competition for eyeballs and advertiser dollars

Newspapers are not gaining in absolute online traffic any more than they are not gaining in print circulation. In but one example, the New York Times website, which ranked among the 50 most popular sites as recently as 2003, today ranks No. 219 on Alexa.Com.

Happy-talk press releases, which won’t fool even the dullest media buyer, are dangerous in two ways. First, they detract from the already weakened credibility of the industry. Second, they convey a false sense of progress to publishers, editors and ad sales people who ought to be scared as hell about the future of their industry.

How can anyone take pride in the fact that the average visit at the San Francisco Chronicle website – which serves one of the most technologically sophisticated markets in the world – is a mere 10 seconds per day?


Blogger Racoon said...

"the average visit at the San Francisco Chronicle website – which serves one of the most technologically sophisticated markets in the world – is a mere 10 seconds per day?"

How can you be sure those visits are 'a human reading content' sessions? Couldn't there be some wholesale downloads (wget) of the site's content, to enable off-line reading at some other time of the day?

7:03 AM  
Blogger TonyGuitar said...

Not too likely.

Except for razor narrow self-interest, I scan through on the screen and only once or twice a month do I actually print something out.

More likely, I lift and paste to a blogsite or forum for debate and testing.

The author and the pollsters are correct.

If most humans are similar to this human, 16 pages in tabloid format is the likely shape for future news papers. = TG

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comparisons are sad, but silly. The top three sites listed (at least) are probably the home pages of most of their users, although Google is indeed a story of its own. So every time someone opens an internet browser, those sites get “credit,” I’d suppose. Should newspapers strive to be home pages? Sure. But even if they succeed to get 50% of the market, each in their own city, then they still only have half of that city’s viewership. Take the other half, divide by the top three, then multiply by every town in America and it makes the comparison absurd.

Google: besides the above which still holds here, it would be ludicrous for every newspaper to try and beat Google’s search capabilities. Forgetting the billions in development for each paper, the math remains the same as above, and your chart would not change. Google can search millions of internet websites faster than my PC can search my Outlook files. That is a benchmark unreasonable to think every paper c/should compete against.

Ebay, Amazon, etc. > you are buying from a universe of things no one city can provide. Just visit and search, even if you don’t buy, can take quite a while, esp. with all the crap (and good things) they throw at you. Buying something takes ten minutes alone. So on a per-visitor basis, there simply is no real and fair comparison.

The only possible fair comparison is Time Warner, if it is their magazines; but I have no doubt there is some sort of video or other bigtime site I am forgetting they own and it is not about the magazines.

The comparisons are crap and unhelpful. It’s like saying people spend more time filling their cars at the gas pump than buying a pack of gum at the convenience store, so the candy manufacturers better watch out.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Newsosaur said...

The above comment is correct that newspapers and other media sites cannot hope to have the enormous traffic rolled up by Google, Microsoft and all the rest. But the point of this piece is about time spent on site, not traffic.

It seems inconceivable to me that newspapers can build a substantial advertising business when the average visit is measured in seconds per day.

If newspapers are going to build healthy and profitable online businesses, they are going to have to develop the features and services that attract large and loyal audiences in their respective markets.

You can't do that on average stick time of 24 seconds a day. And, stickiness actually is declining at many newspaper sites, as noted at

7:39 AM  

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