The Newspaper Association of America reported this week that the number of unique visitors at its member's websites increased by 12.3% in the first three months of the year.
That's certainly excellent news for newspapers. However, blogger Alan Mutter has pointed out a worrisome finding behind the growth: more people than ever are visiting, but they are sticking around for shorter than in 2007.
The chart depicts the movement of the four key metrics of online newspaper growth.
In the first three months of 2008, the average amount of time spent by website visitors dropped by 2.9%. Though not a dramatic drop, it becomes more noticeable after factoring in the 6.6% loss in the average number of page views per unique user,
According to Mutter, "the decline in the average duration of sessions at newspaper web pages suggests that visitors are not utilizing the industry's sites as primary destinations, but, rather, as places to episodically view individual articles highlighted by Google News, Drudge, Digg, blogs or any of the thousands of other places they might be."
The concern for newspapers with what Mutter terms "drive-by surfers" is a potential loss in advertising revenue, which would come as particularly hard hit in an industry that is relying more and more on online revenue. It is also likely that these latest figures will increase newspaper's opposition to Google's new "search within a search," which had started to curry favor following a controversial debut.
Source: Reflections of a Newsosaur