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April 28, 2009

Large Increases in use of Online Newspapers: Center for the Digital Future

Center director Jeffrey Cole: "greatest opportunities in their existence" await newspapers that can move decisively online.

Online Newspaper

According to the annual survey conducted by the Center for the Digital Future at USC's Annenberg School for Communication, in a year when the woes of newspapers -- layoffs, consolidations, and outright closings -- are more extensive than in any period in memory, strong evidence of the changing nature of media use in America may be found in a single statistic: Internet users report a large increase in time reading online newspapers.

In questions about reading online and print newspapers -- key elements of the eighth annual comprehensive study of the impact of online technology on America -- the Digital Future Project found that Internet users read online newspapers for 53 minutes per week, the highest level thus far in the Digital Future studies.

In contrast, Internet users in 2007 reported 41 minutes per week reading online newspapers.

The Digital Future Project also found that 22 percent of users said they stopped their subscription to a printed newspaper or magazine because they could access the same content while online.

"The most significant trend about how Americans are changing their news reading habits may be found in comparing the use of online media by light users vs. heavy users," said Center director Jeffrey I. Cole. "Heavy Internet users spent 65 more minutes per week reading online newspapers than do light users.

"This raises the question: how will the media habits of the current generation of light users change as online content continues to expand?" Cole said. "What ramifications will these changes have for the newspapers of America?"

Online Newspapers

"We're clearly now seeing a path to the end of the printed daily newspapers -- a trend that is escalating much faster than we had anticipated," Cole said. "The decline of newspapers is happening at a pace they never could have anticipated. Their cushion is gone, and only those papers that can move decisively to the Web will survive."

Cole cited four primary reasons for the rapid decline of printed newspapers: the loss of newspaper classified advertising to the digital realm, concerns about the environmental impact of newspapers, the economic downturn, and no prospects for new readers.

"With classified ads all but gone, newspapers had two major types of advertisers: car dealers and department stores," Cole said. "Those advertisers are withering away."

The findings are not unique to the United States. The World Internet Project, created by the Center for the Digital Future, conducts studies of the impact of online technology in 23 partner countries. Every partner has found the same trend in its country: when Internet use reaches 30 percent of the population, newspaper use begins to decline.

"Thirty years ago, teenagers began to read newspapers as they reached their adult years. Today, teenagers don't read printed newspapers, and research indicates they never will," Cole said. "Yet we've found that teens are more interested in news than any generation we've seen in a long time, only now online sites are their news sources.

"Our study has shown over the years that the future is clear," said Cole. "When newspaper readers die, they aren't being replaced by new readers."


Opportunities for Newspapers

In spite of grim prospects, significant bright spots remain for newspapers, Cole said, including "the greatest opportunities in their existence."

"For the first time in 60 years, newsepaprs are back in the breaking news business," Cole said, "except now their delivery method is electronic and not paper."

"Since the beginning of radio, newspapers have not been able to compete with broadcasting for delivery of immediate news," said Cole. "But in a digital world, newspapers can compete at least as effectively for breaking news delivery with broadcast media. On the Web, newspapers are live, and they can supplement their coverage with audio, video, and the invaluable resources of their vast archives. And, they already have talented teams of reporters and editors who can deliver the news."

"The key to newspapers' success," said Cole, "will be making bold moves entirely into the digital realm, and building business models that allow them to thrive online."

In addition, print newspapers still have strong brand identities and reader loyalty, suggesting they may not be finished yet.

In fact, while the Digital Future Project found increased reading of media content online, the study also found that a large percentage of Internet users remain loyal to print versions of newspapers. When asked if they would miss the print edition of their newspaper if it were no longer available, 61 percent those who read newspapers offline agreed -- up from 56 percent in 2007.

The Center for the Digital Future at the USC (University of Southern California) Annenberg School for Communication created and organizes the World Internet Project, which includes the Digital Future Project and similar studies in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania. Since 2000, the Digital Future Project has examined the influence of the Internet and online technology on Americans.

Source: The Center for the Digital Future



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Edited & Posted by the Editor | 1:37 PM | Link to this Post

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