Reinventing the Newsroom

Survey Reveals Disconnect Between Publishers, Readers

Posted in Cultural Change, Paid Content by reinventingthenewsroom on September 14, 2009

Over at Reflections of a Newsosaur, Alan Mutter summarizes an ongoing survey of newspaper publishers and readers conducted for the American Press Institute, a survey that was discussed at API’s gathering of executives today in suburban D.C. The survey collected data from 118 papers in the U.S. and from more than 4,000 consumers surveyed through those papers. (Here are the slides from the presentation by Belden’s Gregory Harmon and ITZ’s Greg Swanson.  This thing is absolutely fascinating.)

Reading Mutter’s analysis this morning, this jumped out at me:

While 68% of the publishers responding to the survey said they thought readers who objected to paying for content would have a difficult time replacing the information they get from newspaper websites, 52% of polled readers said it would be either “very easy” or “somewhat easy” to do so.

The discrepancy’s already a bit startling, but let’s think about it further for a moment. I’m not a statistician or a demographics analyst (and I don’t have access to the survey methodology myself), but I’d put a fair amount of money behind this bet: People who answer online newspapers’ surveys about newspaper readership tend to be pretty dedicated newspaper readers. This survey is a far cry from enticing bored Facebookers into figuring out what Smurf they are — you’re going to get people who are at least interested in and probably fairly concerned about newspapers and their future.

But even within that presumably interested and engaged group, more than half of respondents say it would be either very easy or somewhat easy to replace the information they get from newspaper Web sites. What would those numbers look like if they survey included less-committed readers? I bet the numbers would show that around 75% of readers think it would be pretty easy to replace the news. Meanwhile, nearly 70% of publishers think readers would have trouble doing so.

That’s a frightening and fundamental disconnect, one that underpins so many of the newspaper industry’s problems. Put simply, publishers have a wildly inflated view of their content’s value compared with that of the very people they’d ask to pay for it. To put it mildly, that’s not a good foundation for a business plan.

But wait — because it gets worse. Readers were asked where they thought they’d get their news if content from the local online paper was no longer available. 68% of readers said they thought they’d do so from other local Web sites, while just 30% said they thought they’d turn to the print edition of the online paper. But when publishers were asked the same question, 75% responded that they thought readers would turn to the print edition.

That’s an even bigger disconnect — I wonder what Paul Farhi thinks of it? And given the challenging transformation the news industry faces, I find it even more frightening.


4 Responses

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  1. […] Survey Reveals Disconnect Between Publishers, Readers « Reinventing the Newsroom – view page – cached Posted in Cultural Change, Paid Content by reinventingthenewsroom on September 14, 2009 — From the page […]

  2. […] Jason Fry homes in one stat from the survey that shows a particularly glaring disconnect between how newspaper publishers think their readers get their news online, and what those readers actually do. Great insight. […]

  3. Keith Trivitt said, on September 16, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Some really strong points in this post. I was speaking with Jim Gaines, the editor-in-chief of FLYPmedia, the other day about this very subject. Jim was talking to me about the fact that the mainstream print media needs to remember that at the end of the day, it’s about the readers. If you’re not delivering content to the readers in whatever form of multimedia they want to view/experience information in, then by extension, readership is going to drop off, and advertising will drop off. It’s a problem that is not going to go away by simply trying to charge for online content.

    Jim actually blogged about this very topic recently, and provided a glimpse into a world in which a major media company (say Conde Nast) has decided to go completely digital with all of its efforts. Jim provides a glimpse into this potentially very real future and how it will affect us all — in a positive way. Take a look:

  4. […] report on potential revenue initiatives for newspapers. (Here it is as a PDF.) At the time, I wrote about what seemed to be a fundamental disconnect between publishers and their readers: 68% of publishers […]

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