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Steve Dempsey: Good news for publishers as research finds time not up for print


While print news needs to be celebrated for what it is, so too digital news products need to be seen for what they are (stock photo)

While print news needs to be celebrated for what it is, so too digital news products need to be seen for what they are (stock photo)

While print news needs to be celebrated for what it is, so too digital news products need to be seen for what they are (stock photo)

According to research released this week, print readers pore over the news in detail while news is no more than a dalliance for digital readers. The snappily-titled 'Newspaper consumption in the mobile age: re-assessing multi-platform performance and market share using "time-spent"' found that 89pc of the time audiences spend consuming news was in print, and 11pc was online.

What does that equate to in terms of minutes and seconds? Print newspapers are read for an average of 40 minutes per day. And online visitors spend an average of just 30 seconds a day on the websites and apps of the same newspapers.

"Time-spent data has been collected by many print readership surveys for some time as well as for internet users, but it hasn't become a standard metric for newspapers for a couple of reasons," said Neil Thurman, a Professor at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, and the author of the research. "Firstly, because of a natural tendency to stick with the status quo - publishers and advertisers are used to circulation, page impressions and so on. Secondly, because time spent reveals an inconvenient truth about online audiences: they spent far less time with newspapers' online editions than with their print versions."

Thurman's research relates only to UK newspaper brands, and is based on data from the UK National Readership Survey, the Audit Bureau of Circulations and Comscore. Interestingly, there seems to be a close correlation between audience attention and revenue. The News Media Association recently found that UK newspaper publishers made 88pc of their ad revenue from print and 12pc from online. That's surprisingly close to Thurman's 89:11 split for time spent consuming news.

Thurman believes many legacy publishers have forgotten their core product in favour of a shiny new digital bauble. "Legacy publishers understand the value of their print products very well," he says. "They are still responsible for a large majority of their advertising revenue. However, while chasing their digital dreams they have, perhaps, neglected print - their golden goose. They are starting to understand that there is not a bright digital dawn just over the horizon, and that it might be time to reinvent in print." Similarly, Thurman feels digital products can learn a lot from ink on paper.

"I do think that online newspapers should try to emulate some of the characteristics that make print so engaging," he says. "Its design, the sense of completion it gives, the focus it inspires. We're starting to see this now in the best mobile apps and e-paper editions."

But is this really possible? There is a vast difference between news as a printed product and news on a screen. Print is tangible and readers who buy a paper are making a commitment to spend time with it. This is nothing like the habits of a drive-by digital reader. It's also worth bearing in mind that digital readers face a lot more competition for their attention. They are, after all, consuming news on something that can butt in with emails, social messages, not to mention the odd phone call. Computers, tablets and phones offer a host of distractions. Newspapers never start ringing in your hand.

It's also worth remembering that there are more than just legacy publishers sharing information on the internet. Thurman's research only relates to data from 11 national newspaper brands in the UK. There are no digital pure-plays factored in. There's no accounting for broadcasters' online activities. And there's no mention of the elephants in the online room - the Googles, Amazons, Facebooks and Apples. "If you're a content company and you're not Facebook, Google or Snapchat, you're in the niche ads business," quipped Meredith Kopit Levien, Chief Revenue Officer of the New York Times at a recent AdExchanger event.

While print news needs to be celebrated for what it is, so too digital news products need to be seen for what they are. Thurman notes that online editions have doubled or tripled the number of readers that UK news brands now reach. And It's this reach and always-on availability that news publishers need to harness online, while increasing the attention gobbling potential of print.

If time on site as a measurement provides us with anything it's the understanding that news as a product is different depending on how its users access and consume it. The same articles that newspaper brands create need to be commercialized, distributed and measured differently on each channel.

Sunday Indo Business