Nielsen Numbers Disputed Again: This Time It’s The New York Times

imageEight newspaper sites in the top 30 experienced drops in monthly unique visitors in April, according to Nielsen Online — and at least two are already protesting. The April stats and the protests were reported by Nielsen sibling E&P, which said the New York Times, whose nytimes.com was down 8 percent, and SeattlePI.com, down 17 percent, dispute the results.

Nielsen reports that NYTimes.com, consistently the highest-ranking newspaper site and still far ahead of #2 WSJ.com, dropped year-over-year to 16.5 million monthly uniques in April 2009. But NYT spokeswoman Diane McNulty told E&P the numbers don’t track with three independent sources or with internal numbers: “We believe their data is in error.” She added that the paper is checking the methodology.

Meanwhile, WSJ.com isn’t likely to complain too loud: buoyed by a redesign and a major boost in multimedia, the Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS) site posted a 160 percent gain to 12.4 million. The news prompted an internal memo (via Beet.TV) by editors Alan Murray and Almar Latour, talking about the “significant milestone” but mentioning the Nielsen issues. They’re take: “The Nielsen numbers have their problems. Our internal metrics suggest an much larger audience. Yet the base is consistent, so the trends are real.” Either way, boy, are they going to hate next year’s comps.

Web-only results: SeattlePI.com was back in the top 30 after a stay at #32 but Nielsen claimed a drop in uniques for the second month since the Hearst news outlet went web-only. Nielsen said the site dropped 23 percent in March to 1.4 million; the print edition ceased March 17. In April, according to the service, the site dropped 17 percent year-over-year to 1.4 million. The site disputes both reports, saying its internal numbers showed 4.3 million uniques in April for a slight 1 percent gain year-over-year and 4.5 million in March, up nearly 10 percent. Sequentially, Hearst’s own numbers show a decrease from month to month.

Mileage may vary: It’s not unusual for internal metrics and independent metrics to vary but often the difference is one of sheer numbers, not an up or down trajectory. It’s also not unusual for media outlets — or other sites that rely on traffic for advertising rates — to find fault with the indies. Late last week, executives at video joint venture Hulu raised issues about the Nielsen VideoCensus report that it lost unique visitors in April, dropping from 9.5 million in February to 8.9 million in March and 7.4 million in April.

E&P has the full chart.

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