COVID bump remains highest for regional and local publishers

By Grzegorz Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


For some leading subscription news brands such as The Washington Post in the United States, the Financial Times in the UK, or Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany, online traffic in June 2020 was still 30%-40% higher than in January.

INMA analysed changes in the number of online sessions to the top-50 news sites worldwide by the number of digital subscribers. For desktop and mobile Web traffic data, we used SimilarWeb. For the sample of the top subscription sites, we used the quarterly FIPP snapshot

The category of global news brands (such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or The Economist) peaked in March when online visits were on average 49% higher than in January. Still, in June they were 13% higher.

  • The best performers in maintaining the readers’ attention included The Financial Times (+41% in June vs. January), The Washington Post (+41%), and The New York Times (+28%).
  • The worst performer was the sports news start-up Athletic, which observed a deepening decline of visits due to the lockdowns and freeze of major sports leagues.

The category of national news brands (such as Bild in Germany, The Times of London in the UK, La Nación in Argentina, or Aftonbladet in Sweden) peaked in March, too, (+44% vs. January) and by June the bump was over (+3%).

  • The outliers include: Süddeutsche Zeitung and Handelsblatt in Germany (+33% in June vs. January), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany and Neue Zürcher Zeitung in Switzerland (+31%), and The Times in the UK (+29%).

Interestingly, the category of regional and local news brands (such as The Boston Globe in the United States, Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung in Germany, or The Toronto Star in Canada) managed to keep the interest of readers well after the March peak (+76% vs January) up to June (+36%).

  • The best performers include the U.S. titles such as The Minneapolis Star Tribune (+82%), The Seattle Times (+79%), Chicago Tribune (+33%), and one Canadian — The Toronto Star (+28%). 

This data confirms previous INMA analyses that showed the COVID-19 pandemic was an unprecedented event in terms of scale and length. The extended bumps in traffic worldwide though are not all linked to the pandemic. Depending on a country or region, other news events — such as mass protests and elections — attracted readers to sites, too.

Still, the spike in demand for quality news online in the first half of 2020 is nothing like what was observed in the past. The 2019 study on the lifespan of news stories found an average news cycle lasted only a median of seven days. 

Banner image courtesy of PIRO4D from Pixabay.

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