For Future Readers, Papers Should Look Online

By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 4, 2006

The newspaper industry may be afflicted with declining circulation, falling stock prices and for-sale signs, but two reports issued yesterday suggest newspapers can find new hope in their Web sites.

Newspapers continue to attract huge increases in their online readership, particularly among younger, affluent audiences who are probably not picking up the printed version on their doorstep, according to a report issued by the Newspaper Association of America.

And preliminary results of a second study, conducted by market research firm Scarborough Research, found more evidence that younger people are interested in news, just not the print version. The study found, for example, that 37 percent of adults who visited The Washington Post's Web site in the past 30 days were ages 18 to 34, while only 26 percent of the newspaper's print readers fall into the same age bracket.

According to NAA data culled from more than 100 newspapers in most major metropolitan markets, unique visitors to newspaper Web sites rose 21 percent from January to December last year. Younger demographic groups reading online editions helped local newspapers extend their reach beyond the print market by 14 percent among 25- to 34-year-olds and 9 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds, the NAA said in its report, released at its annual convention this week in Chicago.

"People who are not necessarily engaged with the print product are increasingly using the newspaper Web site for news and information in their local market," said Randy Bennett, senior vice president of audience and business development at the newspaper association. "Blogs, video and other multimedia content beyond what appears in the newspaper are all having an impact on usage of newspaper Web sites."

Data from public newspaper companies indicate that online advertising revenue is growing at a pace that matches the double-digit increases in online readers over the past several years. But those figures are still working off of a small base, said John Morton, a newspaper industry analyst. He said online advertising revenue accounts for about 5 percent of a newspaper's total revenue and will probably grow to 6.5 percent next year.

"But if you continue to grow 30 percent or more a year, within five years, for example, online classified revenue will equal what you'll get from your print model," Morton said. "My concern is how newspaper managers treat this online profit. If they treat it as 'found' money and don't use it to shore up the economic model of the declining newsprint model, it's going to spell bad news for newsrooms."

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