When the official traffic figures for Telegraph.co.uk jumped by almost 40% in March 2008, the Guardian was quick to hit back with an article claiming that the change in figures was in fact due to a change in the way the figures were being measured.
Naturally, the Guardian were quick to find a way of discrediting its competitor – it is proud of its position as the leading UK newspaper online, and the Telegraph’s new figures place it hot on the Guardian’s tail.
Shifting focus to the Internet
Figures from ABC (the standard independent audit of readership) and the online equivalent ABCe confirm that online is where the battle really is for newspapers. Whilst The Guardian and The Telegraph are amongst the most popular newspaper websites with over 17 million visitors per month, their print editions circulate at well below one million, trailing far behind popular newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Mirror. The most extreme case of this move to the Internet is that of the Guardian, which has the highest web traffic at almost 19 million visitors per month yet a newspaper circulation of little over 350,000.
A useful measurement system?
The Guardian’s claim about the Telegraph’s figures does not so much discredit the Telegraph, however, but rather the measurement system by which newspapers define their status online. If the Telegraph can change the way it measures its visitors (in fact it changed its measurement tool, and presumably in doing so it also reconfigured the way it was measuring) and gain a 40% rise in ABCe figures, then what does this mean for anybody who makes decisions based on such audited figures?
The real problem is in fact more complex. As I wrote in my recent , newspapers are having to redefine their business models for new media, and even the innovators amongst them still have a long way to go. Traditionally, ABC figures provided a common way of comparing one printed newspaper with another, and a useful indicator by which an advertiser could gauge the likely exposure they would gain through any particular title. But to see newspapers compete for online figures such as unique users, or page impressions, is frankly missing the point.
Interaction is the key
The new media business models being sought by newspapers will have little to do with counting users, and far more to do with interaction. It is possible that the most successful online newspapers will not ultimately be those with the most visitors, but rather those who truly interact with their visitors and allow their partners and advertisers to do the same. Interaction involves two-way communication between brands and consumers, resulting in loyal consumer-brand relationships. This is where the amazing power of the Internet lies for brands and the media. It’s a land of opportunity for those who will embrace it.
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