For the first time in the two years Belden Associates has been studying the effect of newspaper Web sites on print readership, the research company has found indications that, in some instances at least, the newer medium is eroding usage of the older one.
Cyberjournalist.net summarized Belden's newest study, which surveyed nearly 9,000 readers of five (unnamed) newspapers: "Readership levels dropped 14 percent, single-copy sales dropped 4 percent and subscriptions dropped 2 percent."
Belden's Greg Harmon explained: "Several factors may be in play here. In particular, sites are doing a better job of delivering the news over the web and visitors are doing a better job of getting what they want from newspaper sites. Here we may be seeing that visitors are coming to 'trust' that what they see on the web is what they will see in the newspaper."
A year ago, in a study conducted between May and July 2002, Belden found that "newspaper Web sites rarely affect delivery frequency of the print edition, but have a positive impact on single-copy purchases."
Editor & Publisher reported, however, that the 2002 study also found 14% of readers said news Web sites spurred them to read newspapers more and equal number said the Web caused them to read papers less.
Harmon predicted then that this "dead-wash" might eventually, as E&P put it, "swing in favor of online readership."
One blip in a behavioral pattern doesn't necessarily signify a lasting trend, but I suspect print readership will continue to erode in favor of electronic delivery, partly because of shifting demographics (the displacement of older readers by younger "viewers") and partly because of media fragmentation.
Newspapers are morphing from mass to class. The issue before them is how to define that class.Posted by Tim Porter at June 24, 2003 08:09 AM