A recent study in of the UK came to the conclusion that over 90% of newspaper reading is still taking place in print. Their findings are based on a survey of 12 UK newspapers during the period of 2007–2011, examining National Readership Survey data, circulation audits from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and Neilsen data regarding web-based engagement.
In reviewing their domestic readership, comparing time spent reading online versus time spent reading print editions, the study found that 96.7% of reading time was spent with the print edition. Of course the “quality” of said publications varied greatly and that sad figure was even sadder for some online editions: Readers of “tabloid” newspapers spent, on average, a depressing 1.16% of their time reading the paper online. On the flip side, proper news outlets that are not behind a paywall saw 6.98% of their readership online. Paywalled online editions were all over the place: 4.1% for the Financial Times and only 0.83% for the Times.
I think the most interesting stat, however, was that the overall reading of some of these publications actually declined over the study period. In fact, the total time people spent reading the Independent went down 30.88% between 2007 and 2011.
Due to limitations of the data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the study was not able to include circulation data via apps and the meager data they could get was mostly self-reported and had to do mainly with page requests. They could not get data on reading time spent with the various newspapers’ apps.
Now granted, the data they used for the study is two years old at this point and some of the newspapers have redesigned their websites since this time, but the study got me wondering:
- Is the reason online newspaper readership and engagement doesn’t compare to print because so many newspaper websites are cluttered and unreadable?
- Is the lack of decent mobile web support a contributing factor?
- How has the advent of media queries and responsive design changed the data since 2011?
- Is there a correlation in the US and other newspaper markets as well? It seems all the stats we see show print declining here.
- With Newsweek killing off its print version back in 2012 and many calls for Jeff Bezos to do the same with the Washington Post, is that a wise strategy?
Having come from a journalism background, I am incredibly interested in seeing where things go. I have mixed feelings about print versus digital. On one hand, I have not subscribed to a newspaper for as long as I can remember. I only read them occasionally while traveling; most of my reading takes place digitally (online or at least via online sources). On the other hand, I do see print editions as being some people’s only access to what is going on around them.
It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.
Update: I made a small tweak to the declining readership paragraph per Neil’s correction in the comments.