Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Looking More Deeply At The Impact On Websites Of Newspapers Going Web Only

When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer went online only last month, traffic to its website dropped 20%. Some described this as a sign that the concept was a failure, but we found that hard to believe. The company had laid off 80% of its staff, massively cut its costs... and still retained 80% of its traffic? That's fantastic. Yet, people still seem to miss that point. The Wall Street Journal recently looked at a similar story, involving a newspaper in Finland that had gone online only a while back, and saw its traffic decline between 11 and 22% (depending on how you measure traffic) over a period of about five months. But, the WSJ article buries some of the important details: such as the fact that the paper also significantly cut its newsroom when it made the switch and publishes fewer articles. It also brushes over the fact that when the news became more relevant (focusing on the financial crisis) traffic came right back up to old levels.
Yet, the article still frames this as a "surprising" failure?
It's as if people were pulling just the bad news out of incredibly positive news. Both of these stories show that you can massively cut costs without a corresponding drop in readership. And, on top of that, if you actually provide real value to people, then you can grow the traffic as well. That all seems like good news -- except for folks who seemed to think that you could magically keep all the same traffic while doing a tiny percentage of the work.


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