Newspaper Web sites are beginning to cause some cannibalization of print editions, according to Belden Associates‘ Spring 2003 survey of newspaper Web site users. Although Belden’s earlier quarterly surveys had reported that newspaper sites had no net affect on print subscriptions and had slightly increased single-copy sales, the latest survey reports net losses. Surveying 8,801 newspaper Web site users, Belden found that 4% started a print subscription but another 6% stopped subscriptions, and among those who’ve never subscribed, 8% are buying more single copies in print but 12% are buying less.
When Belden counted only the users who live within the newspapers’ local markets, the net losses were a bit larger: 5% started subscriptions but another 8% stopped and 2% of single-copy buyers bought more but 6% bought less. Moreover, Belden found that users who do read a print edition, either by subscription or single-copy purchase, read much less frequently: 6% read more frequently but another 20% read less (among in-market readers, 7% read more and 26% read less).
“Data do indicate that we may be beginning to see a shift in behaviors, and that this shift is towards a negative impact on circulation among website users,” said Greg Harmon of Belden Interactive. “Several factors may be in play here. In particular, sites are doing a better job of delivering the news over the web and visitors are doing a better job of getting what they want from newspaper sites. Here we may be seeing that visitors are coming to ‘trust’ that what they see on the web is what they will see in the newspaper.” Harmon cautioned that newspaper sites need to know what their own particular situation is in regard to the impact of site use on print user behaviors and need to balance the benefits of their online audience against any negative impact on print circulation.