The latest annual News Users report by Outsell, Inc. predicts additional declines in print newspaper circulation as consumers continue to gravitate to online news. It is the third annual report issued by this marketing and communications research firm, which is developed from findings gathered in consumer surveys.
Outsell projects that Sunday newspaper readers will drop to ~43 million by 2012. That would represent a decline of some 20 million readers from Sunday papers’ circulation heights in the 1990s.
But what’s even more noteworthy is the continuing evolution in online activities. Today, nearly 60% of consumers report that they go online for “news right now.” That’s up from 33% just a few years ago.
And where are people going for their online news? By a large margin, it’s to aggregator sites like Google News, Yahoo and Drudge Report rather than to newspaper sites. As an example, 44% of the people who go to Google News scan the headlines there, without clicking through or accessing the newspapers’ individual sites.
Other key findings from the Outsell survey:
• One in five consumers now go to online news aggregators for their “first in the day” news, up from 10% three years ago. TV/cable still leads with 30%, but that margin has been shrinking dramatically.
• Paid online content is not a picking up the slack for newspapers, with participation rates of no more than 10% of consumers.
• Newspapers retain strengths in reporting local topics (e.g., local news, sports and entertainment), even as national topics have gone pretty much all-digital.
That being stated, if a valued local online news site were to put up a pay wall – or require a paid subscription to the print paper in order to gain free online access – three out of four respondents claimed they would go somewhere else to find the news free of charge. (That’s despite the fact that good alternative news sources at the local level are usually not so numerous.)
The Outsell study found that consumers continue to believe printed news is worth paying for … but they expect the news they get online to be free of charge.
The big problem: It looks like it’s too late for publishers to “transition” reader willingness to pay for print news over to now paying for that same content online.
Nope, that train’s already left the station.