Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Aging Demographics: Publishers Fail to Diversify Digital Audience

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Aging Demographics: Publishers Fail to Diversify Digital Audience

Article excerpt

Though newspapers have been pretty good over the years at growing traffic on their websites, they are shockingly bad at capitalizing on the social power of digital media to broaden their audiences.

Audience diversification is important, because the typical newspaper website is read, more or less, by the same senior citizens who take the print paper. Here's how serious the demographic challenge is:

Using data from the Census Bureau and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, I calculated a couple of years ago that at least half the audience at the typical newspaper is no less than 50 years old, because publishers are not attracting younger readers.

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Today, "the average print reader is a female nearing 60, when the average age of the national population is 43," said Greg Harmon of Borrell Associates, who has been tracking readership trends for more than a decade. "The user of a newspaper website is a little less female than the print subscriber and just over 50 years old. Our research shows that print and Web readers are basically the same people--and that the average age of the online newspaper audience keeps getting one year older every year."

As the core newspaper audience ages to perfection (and beyond), a proliferation of faster, better, and cheaper digital devices is cutting into the appetite for print among consumers of all ages.

In a poll released earlier this year, the Pew Center found that only 20 percent of Americans look to their local newspapers for campaign news, vs. 40 percent as recently as 2000. In a separate survey last year, Pew found that the early adopters of tablet computers were not 20-something hipsters who abhor print, but rather, the same sort of mature, highly educated, and high-income individuals who traditionally read newspapers.

Given the profound demographic and cultural forces challenging newspapers, how are publishers doing at diversifying their audiences via the social power of digital media to build audience and community? Just awful.

Here's how we know:

In a study (tinyurl.com/soclinks) completed in September, professor Rich Gordon of Northwestern University crawled the 300 largest news-oriented sites in the Chicago area to determine who linked to whom.

Analyzing the results, he found that 81.7 percent of the links generating traffic for sites associated with the Chicago Tribune came from within the newspaper's family of sites, and that 80.4 percent of the link-driven traffic at Sun-Times Media Group came from its corporate cousins. To be fair, newspapers were not the only large sites gaining the bulk of their link-driven traffic by steering existing readers from place to place on their own sites. …

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