Sunday, February 20, 2005

Do news sites need a little fiction to boost readership?

While newspaper executives wring their hands about declining circulation of their paper product, their companion web sites hardly attract enough visitors to make up the difference in revenue losses. The average reader interacts with newspaper web sites only two to four times per month, logging less than 35 minutes per month there. Most efforts have gone into making the website splashier and more apace with breaking news. Also, the addition of online video and audio are thought to make the sites more competitive with TV sites like MTV.com and CNN.com. While these features are useful additions I do not think they alone will keep readers, especially casual visitors, coming back to the website.

It is my opinion that newspaper should carve out a section of their websites devoted to fiction and graphic novels. Short stories, novellas, and serials along with graphic novels would be syndicated to newspaper websites which would mutually benefit both parties. The syndicated authors and artists would get wide distribution and exposure of their works and the newspapers would have products that would have readers coming back regularly. Whereas before this deal was not possible because of the cost of print, the marginal expense of hosting longer and more graphically intensive works online is minimal. Moreover, with the greater use of flat screen monitors, people become more accustomed to read online.

This proposition recognizes that consumers want of their leisure time to be entertained rather than just informed. Just as the viewership of TV news programs has been declined while viewership of entertainment programs have risen, I think that if newspaper sites incorporate more non-traditional content there is a good chance of increasing retention rates among readers. Younger readers would gravitate to this form of content especially if newspapers syndicate authors and artists who appeal to their interests. To be relevant in an increasingly fragmented media world, newspaper publishers must deliver non-traditional content to readers who may look elsewhere to be informed and entertained.