Innovators or News Hounds?

By Weir, Tom | Newspaper Research Journal, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Innovators or News Hounds?


Weir, Tom, Newspaper Research Journal


A study of early adopters of the electronic newspaper

The evolution of the newspaper is a continuing source of discussion and argument among publishers, journalists, researcher and other media professionals. The dramatic advances made possible by the development of new printing technologies, news-gathering methods and advanced marketing strategies have changed the newspaper publishing business, and many expect that this evolution will continue with the advent of electronic delivery systems. Some believe that the new development of delivery systems represents "the biggest change for publishing since the 15th-century invention of movable type.(1) The industry seems to be moving toward a more comprehensive and interactive technology, and the move is happening fast.

Local spending for advertising has consistently increased beyond the inflation rate for most of the 1990's.(2) What is significant is that the rate of growth in newspapers has been surpassed by other media.(3) Overall spending in advertising has increased dramatically, but a large percentage of these additional dollars have been drawn to radio, broadcast and cable television, and perhaps most notable, promotions. While spending in newspaper remains strong, other media and forms of advertising have surpassed that spending. This situation has encouraged forward-thinking publishers to explore the new distribution options that are becoming available in order to regain their position as the single largest receivers of advertising dollars.

Many large news publishing organizations are proceeding with developmental projects, but many other smaller ones are waiting on the sidelines to see how the industry is going to evolve, who their competitors will be and how likely the public is going to be to accept such new technologies. The questions raised in the boardrooms range from the method of distribution - Internet to commercial services to local dial-ups - to the practicality of bringing a digital product into the world at all.

It can reasonably be expected that the typical newspaper reader and the typical user of such electronic products will be very different in identifiable ways. Studies of the adoption patterns of other technological innovations can provide valuable insight into the patterns and characteristics of the consumers of a new generation of news products. There is, however, no in-depth study of how these people are different (or if they are different at all) from the industry's traditional customer base. Media don't know who the customers are, and for that reason alone it is very difficult to design and deliver products that will meet their needs and expectations.

Using the electronic news and information product produced by a major metropolitan newspaper, this research assesses the characteristics of adopters of the new technology and compares them with members of the general population who choose not to make use of the system or who have never come into contact with it. In this way it is possible to begin to develop a reasonable profile of the early adopters and innovators and compare that profile with other technological innovations.

Early experiments with electronic publishing contributed significantly to the body of knowledge regarding how consumers will work with computerized systems(4). But as these innovations continue to break new ground, questions remain as to the characteristics of the consumers of these technologies and what will prompt them to adopt, or keep them from adopting.

Literature review

The influence of early adopters and opinion leaders is an important part of the success of a new media introduction. Frederick Williams, Ronald Rice and Everett Rogers note that "the most frequently studied issue in diffusion research is to determine factors related to the level of adoption by individuals."(5) The literature is rich with background information on characteristics of those people most likely to adopt a technological innovation, and from that information it can be anticipated what those people will be like. …

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