The Lies Newspapers Tell Themselves About Their Traffic

from the that's-not-going-to-work-too-well... dept

We've already discussed how delusional it is to believe that 10 to 15% of online newspaper readers will suddenly convert to paying for online news content, but the numbers may be even worse than that. Jeff Sonderman points us to Alan Mutter discussing a report that suggests newspapers are vastly overcounting their online audiences:
In "nearly every market" included in a study of 118 newspapers of every size in every part of the country, Greg Harmon of Belden Interactive found that publishers on average report the number of unique visitors to their websites is 1.3 times larger than the population of their respective communities -- and fully 10 times greater than their print circulation.

Those numbers are not just moderately overstated. "They are magnificently incorrect," said Harmon
And that's a massive problem. If they're already expecting 10 to 15% of that population to pay, and it turns out that the real population is a lot smaller and a smaller percentage signs up to pay, the numbers that those in the industry are throwing around concerning paywalls are going to not just be bad, but they're going to be downright embarrassing.

On top of this, that same study noted that newspapers don't seem to realize how little of their actual traffic is from loyal visitors, which tend to only represent about 25% of the actual traffic. And, just because someone's a loyal visitor, it doesn't mean they'll pay. This leaves newspapers in a seriously bad spot when it comes to doing any sort of prediction on how a paywall will work:
  • You don't really know how many unique visitors you have.
  • You have to guess at the percentage of loyal visitors who will be amenable to paying for content.
  • You have to guess the price loyal visitors might pay.
  • You have to estimate not only how much web traffic you will lose but also how far your ad revenues will tumble in response to the almost certain decline in page views.
It's like watching a train wreck in motion. I'm hopeful that most newspaper execs actually have some inkling of this -- which is why we've heard mostly talk, and seen so little action, on paywalls.

Filed Under: newspapers, paywalls, traffic


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2009 @ 7:04am

    "And, just because someone's a loyal visitor, it doesn't mean they'll pay."

    Correct, as a regular Techdirt visitor I would not pay for it. I know its not a news paper but the point is still true. Even cwf+rtb did not separate me from my cash.

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