Newspaper Web Sites Reality Check
I still say that newspapers are cheap, no doubt about it. At first they were because their profit margins literaly made pharmaceutical companies pale by comparison. Now they are becaue their revenues and circulation keep dropping. However, they have been a traditional market for freelance writers, so it's important to know how they are doing in the new media of the Internet.
Check this set of visitor statistics for top newspaper sites. Nielsen/NetRatings is a standard supplier of traffic measure, although many people wonder how accurately they count traffic. So, apparently the top newspapers, at least, are getting a good amount of traffic.
But this is traffic that is going almost as quickly as it arrives. Look at the amount of time per visitor per month for each paper - and realize that includes all visits. Even at the New York Times, that means 5 minutes per person per visit, or a total of 20 minutes per person per month. That's close to the top end, and it goes down from there. That means hardly anyone, on the average, is spending enough time to do anything other than read a few headlines. They aren't digging into the content.
It jives with something I've seen, when one of my business blog pieces gets listed via Sphere (a content connection service) next to articles on the Wall Street Journal's site. When that happens, I'll get, oh, three or four visitors from there. According to this study, the WSJ is getting 9 million people a month, and they're staying for maybe 3 minutes a visit. Even if you have something featured next to a story, virtually no one - as in a tiny, tiny fraction of one percent - will pay attention.
All writers need to be looking at such information constantly. You are your own CEO. You are your own CFO. Only you will be the person to acquire the information and do the analysis to figure out how and where to steer your business. If newspapers cannot keep people for any length of time on their sites, then their advertising, other than, maybe, a major banner or display ad, will be doing little. Advertisers look at numbers like how much time people spend on a site. If they don't see decent stays, they're going to figure that the people won't be there long enough to see the ads, either.
Yes, Mr. Kromer is correct in saying that there are big numbers getting to the papers. However, there is still little reassuring about the results. It's not that "people don't want long stories on the internet...unless they have plenty of relevant information and perhaps in a different (table? bullet point?) format from standard newspaper fare" as he said, but that they won't be there long enough for advertisers to really get value, and that means the advertisers will be less keen on paying a general rate to appear, and not something based on click-through proof of effectiveness.
That problem obviously isn't unique to newspapers, but it's one that the publishing industry will have to address. In print, you claim that people read your publication and charge for ads that always remain on the page. Online, advertisers have the upper hand. What will it take to change things? I don't know. But I do know that at 5 minutes or less per person, advertisers will not be satisfied with the money they spend.