Research: Going Web-Only Could Kill Your Newspaper

imageWith the economics of news forcing the likes of Seattle-PI and Christian Science Monitor to abandon print for the web, doubtless dozens of other publishers are mulling the same option. Not so fast – ditching the dead tree could lose publishers the bulk of their revenue and even a sizable chunk of their web traffic, say researchers from London’s City University.

— Finnish business daily Taloussanomat stopped printing to focus on digital in December 2007. Though costs fell 52 percent by jettisoning print, Taloussanomat also lost 75 percent of revenue when print ads and subscriptions disappeared in favour of cheap web ads, leading the site to neglect innovation and researchers to conclude: “Ditching the print edition makes such a strategy financially worthwhile only if expenditure is at least 45 percent higher than income … If this finding holds true more widely, current profit levels can sustain newsprint for some time to come.”

— While sites with print editions continued to grow traffic, within five months of losing cross-promotion from the newspaper,‘s unique users and page views were down 22 percent and 11 percent respectively, according to researchers Neil Thurman and Merja Myllylahti.

— The problem for anyone considering online-only – readers spend just 3.5 minutes on-site and view just 2.6 pages, in’s experience; that’s about a quarter the time readers spent with the printed equivalent. And’s website is still loss-making.

Focusing on just one title, it’s unclear how far this study can be extrapolated more widely – but we know lost a fifth of its page views a week after axing its paper. Thurman has previously researched online news video and US visits to UK news sites. The Finnish study’s methodology was company interviews and newsroom observation.

(Photo: Makz on Flickr, some rights reserved).


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