Locals Don't Drive Denver Dailies' Web Traffic

As noted in a More Messages blog from late April, the Denver dailies interpreted recent circulation figures in different ways, with the Rocky Mountain News headlining a precipitous dropoff and the Denver Post suggesting that the numbers had actually stabilized. However, both cited robust online figures. Omniture Website Traffic Reports determined that approximately 1.1 million unique visitors scoped websites overseen by the Denver Newspaper Agency during the average week, an increase of 22 percent over the same period a year earlier.

But how many of those readers were local? According to a survey issued around the same time by Scarborough Research, a joint partnership of Nielsen Company and Arbitron Inc., two of the largest and most established ratings firms in the country, far fewer than half.

"Scarborough Newspaper Audience Ratings Report 2007," released in April, determines newspaper audience ratings in a very useful and straightforward way. First, compilers find the total adult population of the "Designated Market Area," or DMA. Then, they come up with the number of adults in that market who "read or looked into" either the daily or Sunday edition of the paper during the week, as well as those who visited the paper's website over the same span. The approach separates out locals who would be of most interest to Denver-area advertisers from those scattered across the country or the globe, who probably won't be stopping by a Jeffco King Soopers anytime soon.

In terms of the print audience, the Denver dailies do very well. The Rocky's daily offerings are calculated to reach 1,449,000 locals per week, or 51 percent of an adult population set at 2,824,000. The Post's digits are nearly as positive; its print audience is said to be 1,388,000, or 49 percent. But the web audience is considerably smaller: 149,000, or 5 percent, for the Rocky, 192,000, or 7 percent, for the Post. The total of these last two numbers is 341,000, or less than a third of the 1.1 million unique-visitor weekly amount posited by Omniture Website Traffic Reports -- and the accurate total is probably a bit lower, since a few holdouts who get both papers (like yours truly) are being double-counted.

The individual print newspaper totals achieved by the Denver dailies are among the best in the country, topped only by a handful of dailies, including the Washington Post (63 percent), the Arizona Republic and the Houston Chronicle (both 55 percent). The web numbers aren't bad, either, and they'd be even better if the Rocky and Post percentages were combined -- although there's bound to be substantial crossover between them that would lower the final sum. But even using the most generous math possible, the papers fall considerably behind publications such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Boston Globe and the San Antonio Express-News (all 17 percent), and the San Diego Union-Tribune and the aforementioned Arizona Republic (both 16 percent). And, of course, those papers are also attracting more visitors from distant lands than from their own backyard.

The bottom line? Locals who look at daily newspaper websites, including those of the Rocky and the Post, are far outnumbered by out-of-towners who have much less appeal to area advertisers -- and at this point, there aren't enough national ad buyers willing to pour big bucks into regional publications to make all the other eyeballs pay off as handsomely as bean counters might wish. Those 1.1 million unique visitors are nice, but they'd be even nicer if all of them called Denver home. -- Michael Roberts