In the newspaper industry, audience development means growing readership. Where once the print copy hot off the press was king, now online newspapers have taken a more than significant bite.
The reason isn’t confusing: Online is convenient, readers can pick and choose what they want to see, and there’s nothing to throw away.
There’s also no fresh printer’s ink to smell or pages to turn, which are two of many things print devotees enjoy and prefer. The trick, then, is coaxing readers who strictly adhere to one medium over to the other side to try out its sibling.
Make Both Formats Mutually Recognizable
One reason why people choose one format over the other, online or print, is familiarity. Print readers know what to expect when they pick up a newspaper. Online readers know how to navigate their favorite newspaper’s website. But switch them out, and the fans might be uncomfortable with the change.
Newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal know how important continuity is for readers. Although the website is clearly digital, the layout, fonts, and headlines are familiar — it corresponds closely to the print version.
Launched in February of 2013, the WSJ’s mobile site condensed the website’s look, but still kept a similar appearance, according to Mobile Marketer. Continuity might be one of the most important factors in print or digital proponents giving the other side a shot and then making it stick.
Identical Online Versions Could Drive More Print Readers
If the digital look is what’s turning off some avid print readers, consider what The Washington Post has done. Its e-Replica service lets readers view the pages of their newspaper in an identical format as the print edition. Naturally there are a few digital perks. Hover over certain images and text, and you’ll find embedded links and even soundbites.
The Post says, ”You won’t get highlights and excerpts — you’ll get every single article, every single photograph, every single feature and every single advertisement as it appears in our print edition. It’s everything you love and enjoy about The Post, enhanced for a more interactive and accessible reading experience.”
Reading Retention Might Create New Print Lovers
Reading online is a perfect setting to skim, skip, click, and generally absorb less than if you held a newspaper in your hands. Sound like a controversial theory? No one might admit it, but there is some interesting evidence that it’s true.
Arthur D. Santana, Randall Livingstone, and Yoon Cho, then doctoral candidates at the University of Oregon, presented an academic study at the August 2011 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication meeting. The study, titled Medium Matters: Newsreaders’ Recall and Engagement with Online and Print Newspapers, revealed that print readers retained significantly more news stories, news topics, and more main points of news stories than their online reading counterparts.
Based on the survey, “Online readers are apt to acquire less information about national, international and political events than print newsreaders because of the lack of salience cues.”
Driving technology lovers away from online newspapers won’t be easy. There’s a reason why nearly every print publication in America has experienced dramatic readership dropoff. Online is easy and readers can select whatever they want in whichever order they want it. But if this survey is any indicator, there might be an edge left yet for print copies: Retention.
Perhaps there’s room for both print and online media to coexist happily, each with its own important place. Some people naturally gravitate to one medium; some prefer another. Promote the unique benefits of each, and you may have more readers willing to both go online and pick up a print copy, depending on why they’re reading in the first place.