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Two years after the tipping point, papers’ web readership is booming

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As newspapers’ print circulation continues to decline, publishers now get the majority of their readers online. But what does that look like in practise?

I crunched ABC and ABCe (UK) data for the last 12 years to discover the long view.

The following chart shows the average daily print circulation and average daily unique browser count for the only six UK publishers which have routinely disclosed each figure (The Sun, Trinity Mirror’s nationals, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent). Hover your cursor to explore…

(Using print circulation rather than print readership, which is higher, is not necessarily a perfect equivalent to online unique browsers, but it may be the best available).

Now we can firmly pinpoint the date at which the readership tipping point apparently occurred for these publishers – November 2010 (after a brief earlier overtake in January that year).

Two years after the crossover, print circulation is declining at broadly the same rate it has for the last eight years. But web readership’s growth goes on accelerating.

The industry’s dilemma is – publishers’ money has not reached the same crossover. All still get the vast majority of their money from that declining print base. To adjust, some like News International’s Times Newspapers are introducing more charges, whilst others like Guardian News & Media are seeking even more readers to bring in advertiser sales.

In a world of diminishing online ad rates, some question that strategy. Fortunately, however, the web audience is now growing much faster than the flight of dead-tree readers is occurring.

8 Responses to “Two years after the tipping point, papers’ web readership is booming”

  1. Comparing daily unique visitors with daily circulation is apples-to-oranges. Should compare unique web visitors with daily readership. Typically more than one person in a household reads a paper–papers are portable, of course. Assuming 2.5 readers per copy, web readership has a long, long way to go before reaching any “tipping point”.

  2. 100K web readers aren’t the same as 100K hardcopy readers for another reason. They’re looking at article-by-article reading versus, theoretically, seeing the whole paper in hardcopy. So, those ad revenues from online will stay low.

  3. Dan Kaplan

    It’s too bad thst these numbers really don’t have anything to do with the economics of the dire future newspapers face. No one is monetizing the online audience at anything resembling the numbers for print. So, as a newspaper, even if you got 10X the online audience that you used to in print it won’t matter. These numbers are what are called “vanity metrics” – they make some people feel good, but that’s about all they do.

  4. A browser has become a very personal thing; we live in the days of first, second and third screens. Comparing circulation with ‘unique browsers’ appears to be a left-over from the days when the family shared one PC with one browser. So the comparison should be between browsers and readership, not circulation.

  5. Isn’t the comparison faulty. I might have 100k readers reading my physical paper and 100k people visiting my website.

    If the total no of newspapers sold in the UK is 1000k, this means my share of consumption is 10%. This would also translate into roughly 10% of the money spend on newspaper advertising in the UK.

    But with 100k unique visitors daily online, I might generate 2000k page views/day. This would be less than 1% of the total pages views in the news market online that day. My relative lack of heft, combined with my myopic approach would ensure that I get less than 1% of the total online spends that day.

    This will explain why the money hasn’t crossed over.

    Would really like to know your thoughts on the same.

  6. ‘Unique’ browsers are generated by the audience spreading their useage across across desktop, mobile and tablet platforms so it doesn’t necessarily show increased readership, just increased devices / browser sessions per user. ABCe has always been flawed but with the explosion of moblie I’m afraid it’s broken beyond repair. Unless they build in a factor for increase in IP addresses / connected devices per person (and get involvled in how audience profile by sector could skew this) then the yr on yr comparrisons are misleading.

  7. Patrick Smith

    It’s interesting to see that online audience only passed print circulation at the end of 2010.

    Is the ABCe data for UK usage only? 2/3 or more UK newspaper traffic is from abroad – so in effect the steep rise in online readership isn’t as positive a trend as it might seem.