Online Media Changes Traditional Demographics

    February 28, 2005

The latest entrant to the world of blogs by mainstream media made its debut yesterday …

The Observer newspaper in the UK has a blog. Not only a blog, but podcasts too.

The Observer and The Guardian (which owns The Observer) are the only two national newspapers in the UK with blogs. And podcasts.

Before long, any newspaper that wants to survive and grow its readership will have a blog at least. Look at what some mainstream media in France are already doing, for instance, as one way of re-purposing their business models. In Germany, Handelsblatt has five journalists’ blogs. There are other examples around Europe – the Svenska Dagbladet in Sweden, for example, with the blog by its political editor.

It’s got me thinking about newspapers and how reading habits – and readers’ needs – have radically changed since newspapers started going online in the mid 90s, and how that’s affecting traditional readership demographics. Today, just about any newspaper you can think of, from national dailies to the local weekly in your town, has a web version.

From my perspective, that’s completely changed how I read newspapers. I don’t buy a printed paper on the newsstand any more – I read it online. I don’t get the newspapers’ email newsletters any more – I read their RSS feeds. If a paper doesn’t have an RSS feed, I just don’t bother with that paper.

Not only that, I read the RSS feeds of newspapers that push a political viewpoint that isn’t the same as my own. I do that because I can and I want to see what they have to say. Yet I would never buy a copy of a such a newspaper. I also read online newspapers in a wide range of countries that I’d never have access to otherwise.

What does this say about how newspapers gauge who their readers are and where they are? How do they now produce valid readership statistics for their own business planners and their advertisers in an environment where getting people to register on a newspaper website has to be no more than an exercise in fictional names and data (and, therefore, how long will it be before registering becomes a waste of everyone’s time)? And when you can anonymously read what a particular paper is publishing simply by reading its RSS feed?

To be sure, some papers can do this – those that charge a subscription fee for access to online content (the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, for example). And such demographic concerns are probably still embryonic when compared to the traditional printed newspaper and traditional measures. Yet if I were the business developer for a newspaper, I’d increasingly be wanting to know more worthwhile information about a newspaper’s online reach. Who reads it? Where are they? Etc.

With more mainstream media embracing RSS and blogs – and podcasts – it’s just a matter of time before the expectations of readers are such that if you don’t offer interesting ways to engage with those readers, at a price that they believe is value for money, you will lose them. For good. Or you will be out of business. For good.

Whichever comes first.

Neville Hobson is the author of the popular blog which focuses on business communication and technology.

Neville is currentlly the VP of New Marketing at Crayon. Visit Neville Hobson’s blog: