Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's official -- the web is the place for breaking news

The latest newspaper research from my colleague, Dr. Clyde Bentley:

The news of the moment, the mommy market and the best buys in print -- there really is something out there for us besides Dr. Jobs asking you to take a tablet and the Gray Lady asking you to pay for online access. The new year has unleashed a rash of important newspaper numbers:

Immediate gratification -- Print newspapers probably stopped being the first place people turn to for breaking news back when radio came on the scene, but the Web has sealed the deal. The third annual News Users Survey by the Outsell research firm shows a dramatic increase in the number of people who turn to the Internet for "news right now." Today 57% of news users turn first to the Web and a third prefer using an aggregator like Google or Yahoo. As a result, the report said, newspaper usage continues to slip.

Declining readership is bad news, but no one should be surprise that newspapers are not cherished for immediacy. Unfortunately, the study says little about the online or mobile sites that converged newspaper organizations offer. Nearly 75% of the respondents said they would go to a free site if newspapers started charging for access, but that assumes that the same content will be available free elsewhere. That in turn assumes another organization has the same news-gathering ability. And that feeds into Outsell's findings on what content people want. Respondents go to major Web sites for national topics, but expect local print, broadcast and Web outlets to provide their local news and information.
The stats support the notion that readers see local information as compelling content and that it must be unique to have monetary value. The paid-wall argument rests not so much on the results of surveys like this as on a marketing analysis of what content niche a newspaper can "own."

Mother may I? -- It's easy to be sidetracked by the headlines about survey results. Take the recent reports about All About Mom, a national poll of mothers by BIGresearch for the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association. The most reported number was 60.3% -- the percentage of moms with children at home who use Facebook. The first times newspapers came up in the report was with a measly 6.1%.

Don't panic yet. That little number proportion of moms who read newspapers at the same time they talk on the cell phone. That can be seen as the amount of focused concentration the respondents give newspapers when compared to their multi-tasking with other media. For instance, one in five mothers said they chat on the cell phone while browsing the Web. Newspapers, in fact, more than held their own in the survey. BIGresearch said 78% of mothers polled read a local daily newspaper at least occasionally and 40% read it regularly. Community weeklies scored 62% for occasional reading and 26% for regular reading. All that added up to a weekly reach of newspapers to 54% of moms.

Why should you care? Check the buying decision stats collected by the National Association for Moms in Business: Moms are responsible for 83% of all consumer purchases in the U.S. The $1.6 trillion they spend each year is equal to the total purchasing power of the UK. If you are not reaching mothers with your content, your advertisers are not reaching their customers.

The full report and its statistical tables are worth downloading if for no other reason than to see what time of day moms read the paper (only 16% in the morning) and the long list of leisure activities (read "story ideas") that moms enjoy.

Bargain, not basement -- Although ad revenue from newspapers has slipped, the effectiveness of the medium is holding in some demographics. A new Adweek Poll/Harris survey placed newspapers at the top of the list of media for "advertising most likely to help find bargains." But there was a catch: Papers took the overall lead by rating very highly with consumers 45 and older. Boomers read papers even if their kids don't.

In the January poll of 2,136 people, 23% turned to newspapers for bargains, compared to 18% to online sites, 12% to mail, 11% to TV and 2% to radio. Then there was "none of the above;" 34% said the type of ad makes no difference.

I found it interesting that newspaper ads easily beat television ads in every age and gender bracket. Online advertisement beat everything for 18-44 year-olds and for college graduates, but I wish that Harris and kin would give us numbers for more than just generic "online ads." Of more concern to me is online advertisement in support of editorial content, as on a news site. I continue to wonder whether the minimal revenue newspapers get from their Web editions is a reflection of the ability of the ad format to make cash registers ring.

Daily? -- Adweek Media/Harris also gave newspapers a mixed bag of results in its December reading survey. "Almost every day" reading of what is supposed to be a daily paper is down to 43% overall and to 23% for the 18-34-year-old group. The aggregate percentage was pumped up by the 55+ group, which reads daily 64% of the time.

That said, all statistics are not the same. Online readership and television viewership are often measured by a monthly average. The newspaper apples to those "monthly cumulative" apples compare quite well: 81% of the respondents said they read a paper at least once a month and 72% said they read at least once a week. Even that younger cohort reads a paper 71% monthly and 59% weekly.

The same poll said 70% of adults won't pay a dime for online newspaper content. I'm less inclined, however, to give that question much credence this early. I can't remember ever expressing eagerness to start paying for something I now get free. But I usually ante up when given a bill for something I enjoy.

Only freebies -- Those great apps for smartphones may get the buzz, but they don't always get the cash. Asknet's survey found that 45% of smartphone users have never purchased an app. The vast majority of the rest said they had spent less than $50 on apps. The poll, taken simultaneously of smartphone owners in Boston and San Francisco, also showed the continuing market strength of RIM's Blackberry. In Boston, 53% had Blackberries, 37% had iPhones and 10% had other brands. In San Francisco, that miscellaneous mixture was 41%, but the Blackberry hit 34% and the iPhone tallied 25%.

Both sets of statistics bear pondering by news execs. Income from paid news apps may be limited and it seems obvious that iPhone apps won't cover the whole market.

Suburban power -- Two research reports conducted here by the Reynolds Journalism Institute for Suburban Newspapers of America are now available for free download. The SNA Suburban Market Survey of 2,615 adults is bound to raise the eyebrows of newspaper critics. Suburban newspapers dramatically trounce all other media as the preferred source of community news, local youth sports, local business news, local shopping and local entertainment news in their markets. Asked where they would turn for community news, for instance, 66% of respondents named suburban papers, compared to 22% for the Internet, 20% for metros, 18% for TV and 9% for radio. The study also indicates that free weeklies are better read in the suburbs than metro dailies, 59% to 57%.

Using the same sample, the Community Web Sites Study showed huge growth on the use of the Web to access local news in a week -- up from 49% in 2006 to 66% in late 2009. Not surprisingly, suburbanites like local news and log on to Facebook. But of special interest to me was their use of mobile phones. Six out of 10 smartphone owners accesses news and weather on their handset. But don't be blinded by the glitz of the mobile Web, as 59% also said mobile text alerts will be useful to them.

Speaking of mobile -- My fellowship project at the Reynolds Journalism Institute is to help newspapers cope with the growing tidal wave of mobile media. To that end, I've started a special blog and created an e-mail discussion list - - on which I invite your participation. I'll post regular updates on mobile developments that should impact the news biz and then moderate the discussion.

Two aspects of this project may be of special interest to you. First, I will attend the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona Feb. 15. Consider me your reporter. I will blog back information as fast as I can, but I will also try to bird-dog your questions if you will pass them along.

Closer to home, we at the Reynolds Journalism Institute want to host an initial gathering of "mobile editors" or similar newsroom creatures, tentatively April 19. There is no industry group for mobile editors yet and we know many of you would like to exchange ideas. Send me an email if you are interested so I can get it on the rapidly-filling RJI event calendar.