Side door

The homepage is dead, and the social web has won—even at the New York Times

May 15, 2014
Obsession
Mobile Web
May 15, 2014

Traffic to the New York Times homepage fell by half in the last two years, according to the newspaper’s internal review of its digital strategy. Here’s the very stark chart:

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 11.19.23 AM

That’s not necessarily a reflection of any problems at the Times but the reality of how news is now distributed on the internet. Homepage traffic is declining at most news sites as readers increasingly find links to news articles from social media, email, and other sources. (This may be a self-serving argument: Quartz barely has a homepage at all, in recognition of this trend.) Overall traffic to the Times isn’t falling; it’s just coming in through the “side door” more often.

The Times’ internal report was obtained by BuzzFeed, which the document describes as among a few “disruptive innovators” in the news business. (I was among a gazillion people interviewed for the report; they are listed on page 8.) The document describes the homepage situation this way:

Traffic to the home page has been declining, month after month, for years. Traffic to section fronts is negligible. Traffic on our mobile apps, which are mostly downstream replicas of our home page and section fronts, has declined, as well.

The decline in mobile app usage is also significant, but probably related. Home pages, section fronts, and apps are pull media—that is, they rely on readers actively requesting them. But the new news habit is no habit at all, as demonstrated by this chart I sometimes use in presentations:

ona-when-get-news

Pull media has quickly been replaced by push media, as the Times report makes clear in so many words. Information—status updates, photos of your friends, videos of Solange, and sometimes even news articles—come at you; they find you. And media that don’t are hardly found at all.

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