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Publisher: Newspapers Face Ad Revenue Challenge on Web

Newspaper Web sites are growing fast, but the pace of change in the online world is accelerating even faster, D. Colin Phillips, publisher of the Editor & Publisher Co., said at the Interactive Newspapers '98 Conference in Seattle.

"The scope of the competitive landscape is even broader than any of us realized. El Nino has struck," Phillips said. "In just one short year, we have seen a storm surge of new competitors roll over the media landscape to compete for ever thinner slices of what had been our business."

Of the top 10 Web sites last year measured by ad revenue, only one newspaper site, USA Today, made the list at the very bottom, Phillips said.

Newspapers risk falling behind just when the Internet is on the verge of becoming a true mass media, he said.

"The online news and information business is exploding at a pace never seen before in the development of a new media industry," Phillips said. "Current estimates are that the Internet will reach critical mass for general acceptance in around five years. It is already accepted enough to begin draining serious audience attention from our traditional media."

As part of the recent redesign of its Web site, E&P has compiled a Media Links database that documents the accelerating number of news-oriented sites.

Some numbers from that database, which currently tracks about 8,000 sites, include:

  • Newspapers account for 2,544 of those sites,up from 1,520 in February 1997. With 1,758 sites, up from 981 last year, the United States and Canada by far account for the bulk of newspaper online services. The U.S. daily papers operate 823 sites, community papers 590, and alternative papers 73.
  • Magazines sites are soaring, more than doubling from about 1,000 last year to 2,577 now. The big magazine categories are: Health care (350), computer technology (340), general business (208), and sports and hobbies (120).
  • Radio Web sites are growing fastest of all, up from just 250 last year to 1,386. Of those, 364 are operated by AM stations and 1,021 by FM outlets. Fewer than 3% of those radio sites offer "any local news of substance," Phillips said.

However, in its first year of tracking city guides, E&P has identified 60 companies that operate multiple sites. Meanwhile, hundreds of other individual enterprises have launched standalone city guide sites in metropolitan areas across the country.