Online news consumption has dropped among young adults, but risen among older consumers, according to a new study by IBM's Media and Entertainment Group. The study's full findings will be reported in coming weeks, and may mean the newspaper industry needs to decide even faster how to make its online offerings economically sustainable, Dorian Benkoil reported in Poynter Online.
Young people aged 18-24 were the only segment that recorded a year-on-year drop for any digital media category, specifically for online newspapers. In 2008, around 64% of those surveyed said they had read a newspaper online in the last year, while by 2009 that figure had fallen to 54%.
These figures appear concerning, considering that they don't measure regular news consumption, but only whether a respondent has read online news at all, even once, in the last year. The inverse, of course, is that almost half of 18-24-year-olds have not read an online newspaper at all in the last year. Have they read a print newspaper, then? Have they watched the news on television or listened to it on the radio? And how can newspaper executives make their products more appealing to young people?
Benkoil suggests that to reach this age group, "it may be necessary to use social media like Facebook that news organizations don't control, but where 80 percent of them say they regularly interact". Of course, Facebook is not the only answer, and the content of newspapers should be under constant scrutiny as well.
By contrast, people aged over 55 recorded a nearly equal increase in online newspaper consumption, which created a moderate increase in the overall consumption of online newspapers from 54% to 58%.
The survey questioned 3,327 people internationally, 900 of them in the US, in a random sample constructed to match the digital media consuming population. This may help explain the low figures, as people in different parts of the world may use different platforms as their main source of news.
This study calls into question the assumption that while young people read more online news, older people are loyal to printed newspapers, points out one of the survey's lead authors Karen Feldman. "We and everyone else has talked about the notion of a digital divide for years now," she told Benkoil. "What this is suggesting is, 'Look out,' it's not as black and white as that. You can't just keep the status quo for your traditional media, because you're going to see a blending," she said, adding that it would incorporate digital media with the traditional.
The study also found that a significant minority of people, and particularly older people, are willing to pay for their media, with subscriptions preferred over pay-per-article.
Benkoil concluded that news publishers should be prepared for older generations to follow the trends of younger, earlier adopters. "Newspapers and other news organizations should study the behaviors of their younger consumers to see how to reach the older ones in the coming months and years," he writes.
Source: Poynter Online