Statistical evidence: many newspaper execs not seeing reality

1 min read
By Steve Outing

The American Press Institute’s invitation-only “Newsmedia Economic Action Plan Conference” this morning included a presentation by Greg Harmon of Belden Interactive and Greg Swanson of ITZ Publishering, showing the results of a survey of 2,400 U.S. newspaper executives. (You can see the full 80-slide presentation here.)

I find much evidence that newspaper leaders remain delusional about how charging for online content (some or all) is going to become such a big revenue stream that it will save them. Below is the slide that just screamed out at me the main problem: Newspaper executives are out of touch with the online audience to a huge degree.

Click the image below to see an enlarged view.

Click for enlarged view

For the benefit of anyone not able to see the chart in an RSS feed or mobile version of this blog, the graphic shows that 75% of newspaper execs believe that if their content were no longer available on their website, online users would foremost turn to the print edition of the newspaper. Meanwhile, only 30% of online news users said they would turn to the print edition in such a case; the No. 1 choice (at 68% of respondents to a 2009 Belden survey) was to look to “other local media Internet sites.”

Wow. That pretty much says it all. Many newspapers are doomed without management change at the top, moving people into the executive suite who have a better grasp of reality. Or the people already occupying those offices need to get new glasses.

14 Responses to "Statistical evidence: many newspaper execs not seeing reality"

  1. Amy Gahran
    Amy Gahran 5 years ago .Reply

    Nail on the head, Steve.

    At a recent conference of editors from several major newspapers where I was speaking, someone asked me what advice I had for any news org planning to implement a pay wall. I said: “Nice knowing ya.”

    Also, I once asked the editor of a metro daily that is plotting a pay wall who their local competition is. That person said, “We don’t have any.” I said, “You might want to think about that again. I can’ guarantee you’re not the only local source of news.”

    And to see this kind of self-delusion in the NEWS business, of all places… Really sad….

    - Amy Gahran

  2. Ralph Gage
    Ralph Gage 5 years ago .Reply

    The entire “study” seems flawed. Self-selected respondents. Less than 10 percent of those sent surveys. Some respondents answering for multiple publications. What kind of “research” is this? And two of the major individuals involved (Mutter and Densmore) having direct ties to the “pay” philosophy!

  3. Neil Sanderson
    Neil Sanderson 5 years ago .Reply

    Excellent point Steve, but I think we need to make one distinction.

    The questions on the slide say “if news and information from [website] were no longer available.” In other words, if the site didn’t exist, or didn’t carry news and information.

    So newspaper owners who look at these responses may conclude that a mere paywall will not drive their web users to other news providers.

  4. Cliff Tyllick
    Cliff Tyllick 5 years ago .Reply

    Correction: The response chosen by 68% of the visitors was “Other local Internet sites.” Look carefully and you’ll see that “Other local media sites” was chosen by only 17% of the visitors. (Seems like that should be a subset of “local Internet sites,” but who am I to quibble?

  5. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 5 years ago .Reply

    Thanks for pointing that out, Cliff. That is odd wording on the survey. Main point still stands, though: Most online users would look to other websites before going to print newspaper edition, while most newspaper execs expect them to go to print. (Question allowed multiple answers.)

  6. [...] Steve Outing. And concludes: Wow. That pretty much says it all. Many newspapers are doomed without management [...]

  7. Matt Busse
    Matt Busse 5 years ago .Reply

    I agree that fewer readers are likely to turn to the print edition than publishers would like to think. However, I imagine a similar mindset exists in many other industries: Ask Honda dealers how many of their customers would buy a new Honda if their old one died, and the percentage is likely to be far greater than reality.

    Is this being “delusional,” or is it simply expressing confidence in your product? Does that confidence actually translate into poor business sense, as the study may suggest (and as some people who read it are flat-out saying)?

    Moving on, thoughts and questions:

    - Is 118 a statistically significant sample of newspaper executives? I am not a statistician, so I would be curious to hear others’ thoughts on this.

    - Were those who believe in the power of pay walls more likely to answer the survey and therefore skew the results – i.e., are the opinions expressed by publishers in this survey indicative of all publishers?

    - Following up on earlier comments: In slide 25, 68% of visitors say they would turn to “other local Internet sites” rather than “other local media sites” (17%). However, in the next slide, when asked what sites visitors would turn to, “local TV station sites” and “other area newspaper sites” were the two top-ranked choices. This suggests that respondents to the question shown in slide 25 answered “other local Internet sites” when they meant “other local media sites.” The wording is a bit confusing.

    - I did not hear the actual presentation; I am only reading the slides and follow-up articles, so perhaps this was better explained in the presentation, but — I am somewhat dismayed that “obsession with ‘credibility’ and professional” is listed alongside apparently negative attributes (slide 48). Why would making sure your content is credible and professional be a bad thing?

    …All in all, very interesting reading and thank you Steve for writing about it!

    Matt Busse

  8. [...] Statistical evidence: many newspaper execs not seeing reality. Steve Outing takes a look at the delusion of newspaper execs. A short post, but it says a lot. Related: Glass Half Full? 51 Percent Of Newspaper Publishers Believe Charging For Online Content Can Succeed at Paid Content. [...]

  9. [...] Statistical evidence: many newspaper execs not seeing reality: SteveOuting.com I find much evidence that newspaper leaders remain delusional about how charging for online content (some or all) is going to become such a big revenue stream that it will save them. Below is the slide that just screamed out at me the main problem: Newspaper executives are out of touch with the online audience to a huge degree. (tags: journalism newspapers business online paywall) [...]

  10. [...] and some recent research (highlighted by Steve Outing) suggests that many newspaper execs have a stunningly large disconnect between how they think readers will react to paywalls, and how readers themselves actually say [...]

  11. [...] Statistical evidence: many newspaper execs not seeing reality: SteveOuting.com "75% of newspaper execs believe that if their content were no longer available on their website, online users would foremost turn to the print edition of the newspaper. Meanwhile, only 30% of online news users said they would turn to the print edition in such a case; the No. 1 choice (at 68% of respondents to a 2009 Belden survey) was to look to “other local media sites.” [...]

  12. [...] study conducted for API by Belden Interactive and ITZ Publishing. The most stark findings were the huge disconnect between what publishers and the public thought. Publishers (68 percent) thought people would [...]

  13. Clyde Bentley
    Clyde Bentley 5 years ago .Reply

    The state of the individual market could change this rather dramatically. In a metro area or even a suburb, readers indeed could find local news on other local Websites. But for the hundreds of small-town dailies and thousands of weeklies, this is often not the case.

    In many, many towns the local paper is the only medium to do actual reporting. Radio, distant TV and Websites pick up their news and repurpose it, but don’t send reporters to city council.

    The question might better be whether readers will go to the newspaper site if no other local copy is available or whether they would just skip the local news. My guess is that compelling and rare information is salable while the common and dull generates no loyalty.

    Clyde Bentley
    Reynolds Journalism Institute

  14. [...] Outing highlighted a statistic that should give news executives and journalists pause. As Steve points out: …the graphic shows that 75% of newspaper execs believe that if their [...]

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