Looking More Deeply At The Impact On Websites Of Newspapers Going Web Only

from the still-looks-good-to-me dept

When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer went online only last month, traffic to its website dropped 20%. Some described this as a sign that the concept was a failure, but we found that hard to believe. The company had laid off 80% of its staff, massively cut its costs... and still retained 80% of its traffic? That's fantastic. Yet, people still seem to miss that point. The Wall Street Journal recently looked at a similar story, involving a newspaper in Finland that had gone online only a while back, and saw its traffic decline between 11 and 22% (depending on how you measure traffic) over a period of about five months. But, the WSJ article buries some of the important details: such as the fact that the paper also significantly cut its newsroom when it made the switch and publishes fewer articles. It also brushes over the fact that when the news became more relevant (focusing on the financial crisis) traffic came right back up to old levels.

Yet, the article still frames this as a "surprising" failure?

It's as if people were pulling just the bad news out of incredibly positive news. Both of these stories show that you can massively cut costs without a corresponding drop in readership. And, on top of that, if you actually provide real value to people, then you can grow the traffic as well. That all seems like good news -- except for folks who seemed to think that you could magically keep all the same traffic while doing a tiny percentage of the work.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    NotBob, Apr 20th, 2009 @ 7:05pm

    Just the bad news

    "It's as if people were pulling just the bad news..."

    I thought that's what "news" was. Or, to paraphrase an old Hee Haw song, "If it weren't for bad news I'd have no news at all."

    NB

     

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    Jasmine, Apr 20th, 2009 @ 8:24pm

    Honestly, I hadn't thought about it from that perspective. This was enlightening.

     

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  3.  
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    Sos, Apr 20th, 2009 @ 8:56pm

    Fantastic!

    The company had laid off 80% of its staff, massively cut its costs... and still retained 80% of its traffic? That's fantastic.

    Well its fantastic for the privately owned Hearst Corporation. Not so fantastic for the 80% of the original workers now out of a job.

     

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    Kumar, Apr 20th, 2009 @ 9:33pm

    Maybe WSJ paper journalists are afraid of losing their jobs? heheh :-P

     

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  5.  
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    Albert Nonymous, Apr 20th, 2009 @ 9:54pm

    Less traffic from former subscribers?

    Could this be in part due to loss of interest (or active outrage) by former subscribers of the print version? I still get my newspaper the traditional way and read it. When searching for something specific, though, I use the website. More often than not, I'm searching for something I remember reading about in the print version. If my newspaper went online-only, I would likely use the website less, if at all. Not having the paper to read each morning, I'd forget about it pretty quickly.

     

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  6.  
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    Adam, Apr 20th, 2009 @ 10:13pm

    Oh mannnn...

    so it appears that going web is probably a better investment for the companies and it will all be their. Guess I have to get ready Throw one more classic ritual of crumpling a paper around during breakfast out the window.

     

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  7.  
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    D, Apr 20th, 2009 @ 10:16pm

    Less traffic/Less offline brand exposure

    Yes, of course readership will go down when the previous site visitors were used to a daily reminder inthe form of a newspaper delivered at their home, office, corner coffee shop, bus, etc.

    The question is: can the online version continue to do real reporting while making enough money via advertising to support that real reporting--with the added cost of now having to advertise (geo-basd which aint cheap) to get people in the site. Will they do enough user-contributed reporting (which is much less reliable in accuracy and objectivity) to have enogh content.

    The jury is still out on this. It should be an interesting ride. Pretty clear that bloggers don't create news they only comment on primary reporting so who will fill the gap?

     

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    Mike (profile), Apr 20th, 2009 @ 11:17pm

    Re: Less traffic/Less offline brand exposure

    The jury is still out on this. It should be an interesting ride. Pretty clear that bloggers don't create news they only comment on primary reporting so who will fill the gap?

    That's one of the more ridiculous things said on this site.

    "Blogging" is a platform. It can be used for journalism or it can be used for something entirely different. Many journalists do use blogging software. To claim that "bloggers don't create news" is simply wrong. Yes, many only comment, but there are plenty of bloggers who do real reporting. Claiming otherwise is flat out wrong.

    The fact that the majority of bloggers don't do reporting doesn't change the fact that there is reporting done online (whether it uses blogging software is pretty meaningless).

     

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  9.  
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    mobiGeek, Apr 21st, 2009 @ 8:22am

    Re: Fantastic!

    So you are of the mindset that we, as a consumer base, should continue to support INEFFICIENT systems? Do you typically pay more for products so that companies don't look to cut their costs?

    We should pay local workers $50/hr to make things that can be done equivalently (and safely) by someone elsewhere for $10/hr?

     

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  10.  
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    mobiGeek, Apr 21st, 2009 @ 8:30am

    Re: Less traffic from former subscribers?

    But would you forget about NEWS pretty quickly?

    Like me, I bet you would actually start to get news from a variety of sources instead of the one on your doorstep. (I canceled my paper 5 years ago).

    I actually find myself getting news from a HUGE array of sources (news sites, blogs, twitter, facebook (yes), IM). My social network filters out the crap, highlights the important, points out the ridiculous, often finds me multiple sources for an event so that I have different angles to the story, multiple point-of-views in commentaries, etc.

    If my paper had been progressive enough, I would likely have had them as my homepage. But they weren't (and still aren't...heck they have put up a pay-wall twice in 5 years), so they aren't even on my list of regular sources anymore.

    Since I've moved to social-networking-news, I feel WAY MORE INFORMED than ever before. I do miss the local stories about the 98 year old lady who takes care of homeless kittens....er....no I don't. Now I see truly important news from around the world, not just what my local paper pulled off the AP and the filler crap added to justify all those ads.

     

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    mobiGeek, Apr 21st, 2009 @ 8:41am

    Re: Less traffic/Less offline brand exposure

    Pretty clear that bloggers don't create news

    In my opinion, the problem is that the "newspapers" are in the business of "creating news".

    I am a reasonably intelligent individual. I don't want someone masking opinion as facts and pushing it to the masses (or me) in soundbites.

    The web gives me the ability to search out multiple sources and multiple commentaries on a given story: thousands not tens.

     

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  12.  
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    Albert Nonymous, Apr 21st, 2009 @ 9:14am

    Re: Re: Less traffic from former subscribers?

    Well no, I wouldn't forget about NEWS. I've been using the interet since it was called ARPANET, so I've been online and getting my information from a variety of sources for several decades. I have no trouble being informed beyond my capacity to absorb the information.

    However ...

    When I move, I typically subscribe to the local paper. In part this is to get the local news, and in part to participate and support the local community. It's nice to pull my head out of the computer (yes, I've been using them for several decades too) and enjoy a non-wired reading experience. Nothing beats a Sunday morning with the paper and a pot of coffee, sitting on the back deck listening to the birds and reading the paper. There is more time to reflect on what I'm reading than there is when I'm drinking from the firehose, and the information I'm getting is more likely to be directly relevant to me since it's about the community I'm living in rather than events happening on the other side of the globe.

    How relevant is the "important news from around the world" to you really? I submit that it's a delusion that makes people feel informed while cutting them off from nearby events that actually do have more relevance to your actual life. Being widely read and well informed can help how one approaches local issues - that's one reason to take news from abroad seriously. But I think it's easy to confuse high tech voyeurism with being informed in a relevant way.

    The more I think about it, the more I think that the demise of local papers has little to do with the internet and much more to do with their inability to adapt their business models as times change. The internet and a viable local paper are not mutually exclusive.

     

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  13.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh, Apr 21st, 2009 @ 9:55am

    Going online with news

    Good article, Michael!
    It also shows the power of FUD - you want people to believe , so you proclaim it as fact, while ignoring the real facts.

     

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  14.  
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    mobiGeek, Apr 21st, 2009 @ 11:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Less traffic from former subscribers?

    The internet and a viable local paper are not mutually exclusive
    Nor are the internet and a viable local web portal. Newspapers are massively inefficient...MASSIVELY.

    The nice thing about the interwebs is that I have control over the firehose. I can trickle it or shut it off completely.

    Cannot do the same with the local paper that goes straight to the recycle bin or the hamster cage two days after it is printed.

    Yes, many communities have not yet had people seize the opportunities for local web portals. I get that local newspapers will continue to exist for quite sometime. But what I am commenting about above is not "community" papers. It is "newspapers" in general, most of which comprise huge amounts of regurgitated AP feeds, that I have abandoned.

     

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  15.  
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    Eric Reasons, Apr 26th, 2009 @ 7:38am

    Re: Fantastic!

    Job losses are tragic, yes. But we should remember that corporations exist to provide us with a stated service or good, not to provide jobs.

    Here's hoping that the poor souls who are out of work find more meaningful, more lucrative positions somewhere else, where their talents will be put to use in ways that are more productive and more valuable to society.

     

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  16.  
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    Jim Kiljer, May 8th, 2009 @ 7:53am

    bannas on truck and fire

    Yoooooo im back Jim Kiljer in da hoooosssse fish fish fish fishj juping for the line it make help and punching much jungles i got a tato on my face because my monkey door nob told on me last time i staied up past 7 pm YEEEESSSSS YEEESSSS livin on the edge. I have never shaved or eatin and dont even think about a bath no way in 1 month i like japan. LATER LATER

     

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