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US newspapers' online readers grow 6% in '07

Many add video, blogs to compete with Yahoo, others

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Associated Press / January 25, 2008

NEW YORK - US newspapers' online audiences grew about 6 percent last year, an industry group reported yesterday, a rare bit of good news for an industry struggling to adapt as readers and advertising dollars continue to migrate online.

Websites run by newspapers had an average of 60 million unique US visitors per month in 2007, up from 56.4 million the year before, according to data released by the Newspaper Association of America and compiled by Nielsen Online, a Web audience measurement agency owned by the Nielsen Co.

Due to the growth in the total online audience, however, the online reach of newspapers grew somewhat less, with 38 percent of all active online users visiting newspaper websites last year, up from 36 percent in 2006.

Many newspapers have been adding online features such as video, blogs, jazzier graphics, online community features, and links to other websites in an effort to lure readers and compete with other outlets of information online, including blogs and portals like Yahoo Inc.

Daytime visitors are very important for newspapers since online traffic is highest then, as many people log on at work.

Nielsen Online said its measurements accounted for people logging on from work or home.

Last year, The New York Times scrapped a two-year effort to charge online visitors for access to certain parts of its website, hoping that the additional traffic would result in higher online advertising revenues.

"News organizations were very aggressive in 2007 in adapting new tools to their sites," said Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. "Everybody's adding . . . connections to blogs as well as encouraging some staffers to blog themselves."

Revenues from online advertising have been growing at newspapers, but not yet fast enough to replace the declines in their traditional print advertising business.

Total newspaper advertising revenue fell 7.4 percent in the third quarter of 2007, the latest period for which the association has reported figures.

Within that total, print ad revenues declined 9 percent to $10.1 billion, while online revenues rose 21 percent to $773 million, according to the association.

Nielsen and comScore Inc. compile data on online audiences by using panels.

However, many newspapers and other publishers of websites take issue with some of those measurements, saying their own internal data show higher numbers of visitors to their websites.

Web publishers and online executives are working to address those discrepancies, which some say are holding back further growth in online advertising revenues.

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