Digital Marketing, Social Media Strategy, Digital Media, Social Media Marketing

How Huffington Post and Obama Killed the New York Times Online

AdAge revealed recently that the New York Times reported a steep 17.9% decline in ad revenues for July. Not unexpected, as many print behemoths are getting pummeled in this economy. (See related post “Is Digital Marketing Killing Magazine Ads”) However, NYTimes.com and the company’s other online efforts grew only .9% in July, compared to double digit increases throughout most of the past year. 

My initial thought was along the lines of “what’s the big deal? they still grew .9% which is 10.8% annualized and that’s not bad.” 

But, once I started to look more deeply at the data, I found two revealing patterns that explain the sudden stop in NYTimes.com ad growth.

Obama – the King of Web Traffic

Looking at NYTimes.com data from Google Ad Planner I found that NYTimes.com, WashingtonPost.com and other print-based portals showed significant growth in average daily visits from January through March of this year. While of course there were other national and world events during the first quarter of this year, the rise of Obama and his unexpected (to many) vigorous challenge of Hillary Clinton was a recurring and dominant news story. 

NYTimes.com traffic past 12 months:

google ad planner How Huffington Post and Obama Killed the New York Times Online

WashingtonPost.com traffic past 12 months:
google ad planner 11 How Huffington Post and Obama Killed the New York Times Online

To see an even more pointed display of the Obama Effect on Web traffic, here’s the Google Insights search volume graph for “Barack Obama” for this year. Note the huge spike in searches in the first quarter.

“Barack Obama” search volume – 2008

google insights for search search volume  barack obama united states last 12 months How Huffington Post and Obama Killed the New York Times Online

Now that Obama has the nomination and we don’t have daily Barack v. Hillary drama, search volume has cooled (although a recent spike (convention-related?) is evident). This no doubt is a bellweather for overall public interest, and examining the more recent traffic for NYTimes.com and WashingtonPost.com demonstrates this effect. While Google doesn’t provide exact figures, I estimate a total daily audience erosion of 25% for NYTimes.com and 45% for WashingtonPost.com from Obama-mania to today. 

Expecting NYTimes.com to continue growing ad revenue when traffic dips considerably is unrealistic. The bigger question is whether they can hold on to the ad revenue they have, now that the Obama effect on traffic is waning.

Blogs Are Beating Traditional Media Powers at Internet Publishing

The Obama effect is not limited only to traditional media portals. Spikes were seen for all the major political-oriented blogs (most of whose readers also read NYTimes.com, according to Google Ad Planner). Dailykos.com, Huffingtonpost.com, Thepolitico.com, Realclearpolitics.com, et al all showed spikes that looked like this:

HuffingtonPost.com traffic past 12 months:

google ad planner 2 How Huffington Post and Obama Killed the New York Times Online

Notice that even though HuffingtonPost.com and the rest of its blog-based brethren were helped by the Obama effect in the first quarter, their traffic today is HIGHER than it was at the beginning of the year pre-Obama. 

DailyKos.com traffic past 12 months:

google ad planner 3 How Huffington Post and Obama Killed the New York Times Online

I interpret this as Obama mania driving significant number of Web visitors to sample sites that they may not have used much (if at all) previously, most notably the high profile, opinionated, and hyper-current political blogs. These sites have been able to hold on to substantially greater portion of their increased audience than have the traditional media portals. 

To me, these findings call into question the ability for traditional portals to continue growing significantly. It appears that as media continues to fragment and consumers have more and more choices, blog-based journalism seems to resonate with a greater percentage of the population. 

Obviously, traditional media portals aren’t going away. After all, NYTimes.com does have 6X the audience of the Huffington Post. However, given that it costs peanuts to produce the Huff compared to NYTimes.com, and given the traffic trends examined here, over the long-term I see the uber blogs becoming more and more dominant, provided they don’t lose their opinionated appeal as they grow.

It’s increasingly clear that consumers want a dash of opinion with their news, regardless of medium, and their journalistic credo and huge overhead is going to make it a difficult future for the newspaper-based Web sites. Ultimately, it spells a slow death for NYTimes.com and other traditional media entities.

Related: Why the Murder of Old Media is PR’s Best Chance

 

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  • http://www.tazmedia.com/ Jim Taszarek, Taz

    Re NYT & Obama
    Bingo. You hit it on the head. I worked in News/Talk Radio for years. Elections were our equivalent of Santa Claus. (Also Impeachments, Desert Storm etc.) There was Good/Bad News. We lived on Arbitron Ratings which were/are gathered by quarter then released the following quarter. So when the ratings from the Q4 election period appeared in the Q1 following an election – 90-Day Ad Sales Bonanza.

    Problem; all the heavy listeners disappeared immediately following the election and that huge drop showed up Q2. There’s lots of evidence that the same thing will occur in every medium with election-heavy content. So the advice to those being kept afloat by elections – be ready for an equally nasty loss of users-listeners-viewers-readers.

  • http://www.tazmedia.com Jim Taszarek, Taz

    Re NYT & Obama
    Bingo. You hit it on the head. I worked in News/Talk Radio for years. Elections were our equivalent of Santa Claus. (Also Impeachments, Desert Storm etc.) There was Good/Bad News. We lived on Arbitron Ratings which were/are gathered by quarter then released the following quarter. So when the ratings from the Q4 election period appeared in the Q1 following an election – 90-Day Ad Sales Bonanza.

    Problem; all the heavy listeners disappeared immediately following the election and that huge drop showed up Q2. There’s lots of evidence that the same thing will occur in every medium with election-heavy content. So the advice to those being kept afloat by elections – be ready for an equally nasty loss of users-listeners-viewers-readers.

  • http://robertworstell.com Robert_Worstell

    A flyover country perspective:

    You are comparing NYT (arguably left-leaning) with Huffington Post and Daily Kos (definitely left-leaning). How have any centrist or right-leaning blogs and online venues done through this same period?

    It could be argued that these opinionated outlets are more involved in continuing the election process, due the agenda they are pitching and promoting. NYT, being more detached from the process, is reporting a broader range of issues and has *less* of an oar in this water.

    However, the conclusion isn’t necessarily true – listeners already get a ton of slant and opinion in their news and don’t particularly like it. They don’t trust the news in general (only Congress and lawyers have lower ratings – even the President is higher than news outlets).

    If you figure that the NYT needs to become another online tabloid site, then perhaps this view contributes to the decline in online readership.

    For myself, I am following the NYT more, now that I can get twitter feeds… I can’t afford the subscription, and it arrives too late to be a “daily” paper out here in the midwest.

    But that gives you another option: work on your analysis and (balanced) commentary. This is what magazines are known to excel at. That would definitely be a counter-point to these two comparison sites.

    And *perhaps* the rumors of your death are “greatly exaggerated.”

  • http://robertworstell.com Robert Worstell

    A flyover country perspective:

    You are comparing NYT (arguably left-leaning) with Huffington Post and Daily Kos (definitely left-leaning). How have any centrist or right-leaning blogs and online venues done through this same period?

    It could be argued that these opinionated outlets are more involved in continuing the election process, due the agenda they are pitching and promoting. NYT, being more detached from the process, is reporting a broader range of issues and has *less* of an oar in this water.

    However, the conclusion isn’t necessarily true – listeners already get a ton of slant and opinion in their news and don’t particularly like it. They don’t trust the news in general (only Congress and lawyers have lower ratings – even the President is higher than news outlets).

    If you figure that the NYT needs to become another online tabloid site, then perhaps this view contributes to the decline in online readership.

    For myself, I am following the NYT more, now that I can get twitter feeds… I can’t afford the subscription, and it arrives too late to be a “daily” paper out here in the midwest.

    But that gives you another option: work on your analysis and (balanced) commentary. This is what magazines are known to excel at. That would definitely be a counter-point to these two comparison sites.

    And *perhaps* the rumors of your death are “greatly exaggerated.”

  • Jason Baer

    Robert –

    Good comment. Thank you for taking the time to write it. As I referenced in the original post, this is by no means a Huff Post/Daily Kos vs. NYT scenario. This isn’t politics and I don’t believe it is based in any way on left vs. right. The Politico, RealClearPolitics and All Politics all have similar trend lines to Huff Post (as mentioned). And the Washington Post has a similar trend line to NYT.

    I agree with your premise that consumers (in large measure) don’t want truly slanted news. But they do seem to prefer news that supports their own world view, whether that view tilts toward CNN, Fox News, NYT, etc. I believe the real finding here is that consumers are coming to prefer blog-style news that carries with it a component of first-person approachability over the traditional longer form (and arguably less engaging) “professional” journalism.

    Considering that WSJ launched its own social network recently complete with article comments and so forth, I believe the die has been cast in this regard.

    Thanks again and all the best,

    j

  • Jason Baer

    Robert –

    Good comment. Thank you for taking the time to write it. As I referenced in the original post, this is by no means a Huff Post/Daily Kos vs. NYT scenario. This isn’t politics and I don’t believe it is based in any way on left vs. right. The Politico, RealClearPolitics and All Politics all have similar trend lines to Huff Post (as mentioned). And the Washington Post has a similar trend line to NYT.

    I agree with your premise that consumers (in large measure) don’t want truly slanted news. But they do seem to prefer news that supports their own world view, whether that view tilts toward CNN, Fox News, NYT, etc. I believe the real finding here is that consumers are coming to prefer blog-style news that carries with it a component of first-person approachability over the traditional longer form (and arguably less engaging) “professional” journalism.

    Considering that WSJ launched its own social network recently complete with article comments and so forth, I believe the die has been cast in this regard.

    Thanks again and all the best,

    j

  • Tom

    When a magazine becomes the mouthpiece of an electoral candidate, backlash will occur. People lost faith and trust with the Times. I don’t know anybody subscribed to TNYT. We’ve all cancelled. If they ever start to report (unbiased) news again, I’ll be back.

    Most people are getting their news through the internet.

  • Tom

    When a magazine becomes the mouthpiece of an electoral candidate, backlash will occur. People lost faith and trust with the Times. I don’t know anybody subscribed to TNYT. We’ve all cancelled. If they ever start to report (unbiased) news again, I’ll be back.

    Most people are getting their news through the internet.

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