This quote from Peter Preston writing in the Observer yesterday caught my eye:
“Around 70.3 million unique users visited a US newspaper website in June, only one-third of the actual (210 million or so) American universe of users. The average visitor spent 38 minutes and 24 seconds a month on one, or more likely, a variety of many sites. Here’s a basic point to register. The average New York Times print reader spends roughly as long with his paper a day as the average NYT net user spends online in a month.” (Italics mine).
It’s a striking statistic. Preston’s point, I think, gives some small solace to print newspaper fans, while slightly undermining the “print is doomed” crowd. That newspapers remain so much more “sticky” than their online counterparts suggests that, so long as they can continue to sell some copies, they’ll be able to sell some advertising too. There will be no decline to zero. Few newspapers are going to be as full as they were a decade ago. But I heard recently during a trip to the US that the Washington Post has now declined to the point whereby the newspaper is only slightly bigger than it was during the 1960s, a period often seen as the high watermark of quality journalism.
Preston also notes the case of DC political insider newspaper Politico. It was launched three years ago, and was the subject of a tremendous piece in Vanity Fair a while back. On the face of it is an obvious example of the “niche-paper” concept, which did the rounds a few weeks ago, as an online micro-market for politician obsessives.
He writes: “A new generation of innovators is already building 21st century newspapers: niche-papers. The future of journalism arrived right under the industry’s nose. Niche-papers, as the name implies, own the microniche. (Here’s a nice, timely discussion of Niche-papers by Michael Massing in the New York Review of Books.) Niche-papers are different because they have built a profound mastery of a tightly defined domain—finance, politics, even entertainment—and offer audiences deep, unwavering knowledge of it.”
But as Preston notes, a “niche-paper” like the dangerously geeky Politico, “depends on the double whammy of Politico in print as well: two markets, not one.”
If you build a niche-paper, and attract everyone interested in that niche, and build cleverly targeted advertising around that niche—even then, if your audience only skips over your content as part of their daily graze, you could struggle to make money. But combine your online niche with a useful, easy-to-read, stick in your bag print product…well it’s so crazy, it just might work.