UUS. newspaper publishers are sharply disconnected from how consumers perceive their newspapers' brands in the online space. The marketing challenge for newspapers is how to close that gap and to evolve positive perceptions of newspaper web sites into irreplaceable ones for consumers.

This is my alternative “lead” to yesterday's story emanating from suburban Washington, D.C., where the American Press Institute (API) hosted the presentation of a survey by Belden Interactive and ITZ Publishing regarding online revenue possibilities. (Download the full PowerPoint presentation here.)

The survey was designed to show the latest thinking by U.S. newspaper companies regarding online revenue possibilities.


Not entirely unexpected, newspaper publishers have a much higher opinion of themselves than their consuming publics.

What the API survey cleverly included was Belden Interactive data on how consumers see newspaper web sites alongside what publishers thought their consumers would say about their web sites.

The key disconnect: The survey asked what alternative media consumers would use if news and information were no longer available at the newspaper's web site. Some 75% of publishers said the print edition of the newspaper, while only 30% of consumers said the same.

The survey went further by asking how easy would it be for consumers to find a replacement web site if the newspaper's web site ceased to exist. Another disconnect: 52% of consumers said it would be at least somewhat easy, while 31% of newspaper publishers thought it would be at least somewhat easy for consumers.

Yet the survey wasn't all bad news. Some 93% of publishers thought consumers perceived their web sites as at least somewhat valuable, and 91% of consumers said the same.

What this tells me is that a core group of our web site visitors who are willing to complete a survey like their newspaper's web site. Yet consumers simply don't view narrative-rich, content-rich, multimedia-rich, local-rich, comfortably-branded newspaper web sites as irreplaceable.

In other words – shockingly! – newspaper brands have a marketing challenge with consumers in the online space. When we are talking about locating and charging full financial value for disaggregated content under a brand, there had better be serious new marketing firepower aimed at the consumer to drive up perceived values and differentiate from perceived competitors. At minimum, there will need to be significant new marketing to combat a potential consumer backlash from charging in the first place.


Meanwhile, the presentation looked at what they called the “three flavours” of newspaper web site audiences:

  • Fly-Bys: Representing 54% of a typical newspaper web site's audience, these are low-value consumers who visit, perhaps, once a month, often coming from search engines, and they may be in or out of the local market.

  • Incidental Loyalists: Representing 21% of audience, these are medium-value consumers who visit 1-3 days per month and 1-2 times on the day of visit. They are primarily local.

  • Core Loyalists: Representing 25% of audience, they visit the web site 20 days per month, often 2-3 times per day when visiting, and overwhelmingly local.

The critical takeaway is that the “Core Loyalist” flavour should be the foundation for paid content strategies.


Other survey highlights include:

  • 58% of newspapers surveyed are considering alternatives in paid online access, and nearly half of those surveyed expect to implement a new paid strategy in the next year.

  • 51% of newspaper publishers said it was at least somewhat likely that charging for online content will make a significant contribution to newspaper revenues – not exactly a confident group marching together into the wilderness.

  • Why are publishers considering online paid strategies? Three clear reasons: capturing new revenue opportunities, establishing a financial value for copyrighted content, and preserving print circulation.

  • What micro-payment models do publishers most expect to work? Overwhelmingly, charges based on selected types of content and charges for selected collections of news by topic and for selected archives.


Most news coverage of yesterday's survey announcements focused on the thinking of publishers and the pace of development in light of new technology solutions quickly coming to the fore.

Yet I took away different conclusions. While the perceptual value gulf between publishers and consumers is cute, the marketing challenges we should focus on are:

  • How to get perceived irreplaceability numbers up in the consumer's mind.

  • What to market to consumers aside from an “online bundle” and “we have a web site.”

  • How to market to the “three flavours” and how to prioritise those resources.

One final, key point: The survey looked at perceived values online and perceived values in digital formats. The survey didn't aggregate perceived values of the brand across platforms.

Congratulations to API, Belden Interactive, and ITZ for furthering the industry discussion on the “value of content” debate.