New Research Documents News Readers’ Reliance on Google and Other Search Aggregators
Important Details: As public and private sparring picks up in pace between daily news producers and Google, we’re learning more about the emerging habits of news readers.
In Outsell’s just-published survey of U.S. news readers (News Users, 2009, Dec. 10, 2009), we see a cementing of habits, clearly showing the inroads digital news sources have made in readers’ lives, and squarely placing search aggregators at the center of much of that behavior. Among the key findings in the report are:
- It’s taken more than a decade of internet routine, but now a majority of readers tell us they go online first to find “news right now.” Now, 57% of people go online, compared to only 33% three years ago. Almost a third (30.8%) of readers say they turn to news aggregators for “news right now; that’s up from just 10% three years ago. Yes, online newspapers site and niche online sites have gained as well, but, here clearly it is the news aggregators that have ascended the most.
- Even first thing in the morning — long the preserve of TV, radio and newspapers — news aggregators have made a major gain, up to 18.8% of respondents for that morning news, compared to just 10% three years ago. It’s harder to multi-task during busy mornings with online news, but readers are increasingly making the time for it in their early routines.
- A majority (51%) of Power News Users — those readers who access the news at least twice daily — told Outsell that they use Google News to regularly scan headlines and summaries – without going to newspaper sites. Overall, 44% of all news users report the same kind of usage. In addition, news readers report ping-ponging back and forth between Google and news sites, hooked on Google’s search allure. About 14% say that after they do link off to a news site, they return to Google to find the next news page they want to read, indicating a ping-pong effect, with Google (and other news search aggregators) playing a central role in news reading behavior and solidifying habits. About 12% tell us they use Google to get to a news site, but then use the search function on that site (and presumably browse as well) to find other stories.
Throughout the report, we see that news aggregators show key, and growing, strengths, in many national news and niche categories. In addition, we see some inroads, though still relatively minimal, into local news areas. We also point to the fact that the all readers are increasingly following Power News User habits (and doing so more quickly) and that Power News Users have been early adopters of aggregators to quicken their movement through the web.
Implications: In print, for decades, newspapers were the strongest mass medium, commanding large audiences and the ad revenues that followed. Now, we see how that role has so quickly changed online. A majority of our respondents are using Google, either alone, through summary reading, or through a ping-pong Google/news site/Google process. Certainly, the perceived, and real, multi-source strengths of Google News search and the news sites of aggregators Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft, are a factor here. In addition, the often-underperforming site search functionality of news sites reinforces the behavior as well, in Outsell’s opinion. Whatever the reasons, this data – the first of its kind – quantifies the significant disintermediation of news reading by Google.
When a full 44% tell us that they scan headlines on Google “without accessing newspaper sites,” we see the data informing the public skirmishes we’re now seeing. Google has made several changes in its news search protocol in recent weeks, heeding the growing concern (see Insights, The Traffic Roundabout: News Publishers Assess Whether More is More, Dec. 9, 2009). Yet those changes are unlikely to have any significant impact on publisher traffic or revenues.
Outsell believes that news publishers are on the brink of understanding the news search ecology better. While some are threatening — more for negotiation position, we think, than with real intent — to put up high pay walls, most are trying to better understand how this new ecology works. With understanding, they can think through and then innovate better presentation/distribution pathways and better negotiate with the news aggregators. First, though, comes the acknowledgment of how the reader likes to take in the news now.
Start with the consumer, follow her, Outsell believes, and the choices on presentation, distribution and negotiation become clearer.