The audience for online newspaper sites in the US is growing at twice the rate of the overall web audience, according to new figures.

The Nielson//NetRatings report, released by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), also suggests that visitors to these sites have higher incomes, as well as being more inclined to shop online.

The report also shows:

  • An average of 59m people a month visited newspaper sites during the first quarter of 2007 – this represents 37.6% of active internet users.
  • This is an increase of 5.3% over the same period in 2006, and compares favourably with the overall web audience growth of 2.7%.
  • 88.1% of newspaper website visitors have made a purchase online in the last six months,  compared with 78.9% of the overall internet audience.

Heather Hopkins at Hitwise has seen a similar pattern for UK newspaper sites, with the share of UK internet visits to news and media sites up 19% year on year in April 2007. Print media sites are keeping pace, with visits up 17% year on year.

In January this year, one in 24 UK internet visits went to a news and media site. The BBC accounted for 15.45% of these visits.

Market share of UK internet visits - Hitwise

Earlier this week, Bill Gates predicted that newspapers will all be online in five years, pointing out that newspaper subscriptions are in decline as people choose to read news online.

But this seems unlikely, as there are always reasons why people prefer to read news in print, rather than online.

The IAB reported in March that UK online ad spending overtook newspaper ad spend for the first time last year, growing by 41% to pass the £2bn mark. In the same period, newspaper advertising grew by just 0.2% to reach £1.9bn.

However, these figures are for total online ad spend – NAA figures for 2006 show that online newspaper ad spend accounted for just 5.4% of all newspaper ad spending in the US.

Until this disparity levels out, and it is questionable whether this will happen as soon as Gates believes, then publishers will always have a reason to invest in print media.

Further reading:

The Guardian redesigns its home page