The average age of a user of American newspapers’ websites is 42, an age has grown by a year every year since 2001, according to Belden Associates’ annual survey data. This strongly indicates that the newspaper industry’s strategy of going online to appeal to younger readers is failing.
True, the average age of the websites’ is younger than the average reader of a printed edition reader: 42 versus 55. But the American newspaper industry’s online strategy is aimed at reaching users in the 25 to 34 and also 35 to 44 age groups. The Belden data shows that the ranks of newspaper website users who are age 25 to 44 have steadily declined over the past five years while those in the oldest age group (55 plus) have increased. This is why the average age has been rising as fast as the calendar.
If the American newspaper industry is to reverse its declines, it must steadily decrease, not increase, the average age of its users, whether users of print or online.
Greg Harmon of Belden Associates showed me the data during Editor & Publisher and MEDIAWEEK magazines’ Interactive Media conference last month. During my panel there on ‘What’s Wrong with Media’, I was asked by the audience what portion of a newspaper website’s users doesn’t also read the printed edition.
At that moment, I didn’t have most current data to answer. I replied that I thought the answer was about 25 percent, and I referred the audience to Belden Associates for more current data. Harmon, who attended the conference but missed my panel due to a schedule conflict, later showed me his company’s current data.
Since 2001, Belden has interviewed more than 134,000 users (including 38,300 during 2005) of 39 U.S. newspaper websites of various sizes. Here are some highlights about the users: