Attracting mainstream news consumers on the web

While share of news papers seems to be dwindling down in terms of readership and circulation, it is still death by a 1,000 cuts. Online news sites such as digg have not seen a jump in readership from the mainstream readers. By mainstream readers, I mean mom and pop store owners, doctors, businessmen etc., essentially people in other walks of life besides technology. Surely all the tech-savvy users are using digg, google blog search, reddit etc., the real jump would come in when the mainstream consumers cross the chasm.

News consumers on the web seem to discover news through these channels -

  • Editorial - What editors and people in the media business suggest I should be reading. This may be newspapers like wsj.com, or a blog network like techcrunch.com or a vertical portal like webmd.com. Most main stream users that have migrated from offline to online are in this bucket/channel. They are saving on trees since the same news is being consumed online from the same offline media outfits, but they have not really altered their consumption habits.
  • Collaborative filtering – What fellow peers in the know suggest I should be reading. This is where digg, reddit and other sites fall in. Technology savvy audiences are already consuming news in this manner. The mainstream users have not migrated to collaborative filtering yet. Part of the reason may be they are not yet introduced to the channel, another reason might be that even after getting introduced to the channel they are not sticking around. Users would stick around if they saw network effects, other people in similar walks of life were also on the same channel and consuming news in the same fashion.
  • Personal interests – Personal interests of the consumer which the other two above don’t seem to address. Mainstream media (editors, content generators) and collaborative filtering (content synthesizers) seem to only write/synthesize on topics they are interested in. There are a lot of news topics that are news worthy to a consumer but are not mainstream. Examples would include topics like – a previous employer, a very specific type of industry niche (budget hotels in china), a long tail hobby (mini street car racing). In order to discover news in this bucket, users read tail blogs or use products like google blog search and news search to get to the news item.

Consumers have two types of intent with respect to news discovery -

  • Transient intent – A current event such as interest rate hike, obama versus clinton etc. This intent is transient and generally short lived, most users follow these because this indirectly affects them or these are topics of current events and they are interested in staying in the know.
  • Persistent intent – There are topics that the consumer is interested in and follows closely, usually these topics may affect the consumer directly. These may be head topics such as health care or very tailish topics such as casino investments in macau (I may have invested in LVS), venture capital investments in Web2.0 in India etc. Users are typically directly interested either professionally, through a hobby or monetarily.

If the news papers are losing market share, where are the main stream users getting their news dose?

Main stream users have started the migration to web based news. However, they seem to be consuming news in the online versions of their offline channels. They seem to be reading wsj.com, nytimes.com and webmd.com which are news/information portals. These users have not migrated to “user-generated”/”user-synthesized” news yet.

A compelling solution for mainstream consumers would be one that discovers news through editorial content, collaborative filtering and caters to his personal interests as well as addresses persistent and transient intent of the reader. The network effects of other mainstream users consuming news in this manner would create a stronger impetus. I think we should see some evolution in net news in this direction soon.

So long (newspapers), and thanks for all the fish…

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One response to “Attracting mainstream news consumers on the web

  1. Great look at the behavioral side of news consumption, Mehul. We’re looking at issues around local news. Right now, I see part of the problem is that newspapers are still looking at the old school “we publish, you read” model and aren’t adapting to the behaviors you pointed out here. At the local level, the key challenges are building critical mass such that consumers can control the three discovery mechanisms you outline for themselves and for their friends–all at a very small scale.

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