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Comparing Readers of Paid, Free and Online Newspapers: Demographics, Reading Habits and Evaluation of Different Newspaper Types

Clement York Kee So

Last modified: 2010-06-03


This study compares the readers of paid, free and online newspapers in order to understand their similarities and differences. We look at their demographics and examine their newspaper reading habits in terms of time spent, number of copies read, contents liked, etc. We also compare different type of readers’ evaluations of various newspaper types.

Findings from this study will shed light on the evolution and trend of newspaper readership in the context of various channels of distribution these days. The traditional paid newspaper readers may still constitute the majority but its share is declining. The younger people favor online publications and they represent a new breed of readers. The interactions among the various types of readers should inform us about the fate of traditional paid newspapers when challenged by the free and online newspapers.

The “death” of traditional paid newspapers is assumed by many observers. The rise of free newspapers and online newspapers around the world has significantly changed the readership landscape. The late comers gradually take away sizable chucks of the readership pie due to their own characteristics and advantages.

Free dailies have been very successful in many cities around the world. They are very attractive to people who go to work or school in the morning. Despite their relative short and simple content, their high circulation can successfully attract advertisers. Online newspapers are mostly free of charge and readily accessible on the Internet. Most of them are spin-offs from traditional print newspapers and are in fact competing with their own offline counterparts. Young people tend to get their news online and do not read the print copies.

Hong Kong is chosen as a site for study for several good reasons. First, it has a flourishing newspaper market, with the combined circulation of the free dailies rivaling that of the paid dailies. Second, there are four free dailies launched in recent years (between 2002 and 2005). Third, there is sufficient time lag to let readership pattern to become stable. Fourth, the 17 dailies in Hong Kong belong to five different types catering for various readers.

Two telephone surveys were done, one in 2008 and the other in 2009, to address these issues in Hong Kong. In April 2008, 1,441 respondents were successfully interviewed using a random sampling method (response rate = 61%). In June 2009, 1,566 successful cases were collected (response rate = 70%). Questionnaires for both surveys were almost identical so that a comparison over time is possible.

Preliminary analysis of the 2009 data shows that there are eight major categories of newspaper readers, and we are most interested in looking at the three pure types (paid paper readers onlyOCSCleaned= 23%, free paper readers onlyOCSCleaned= 7%, and online paper readers onlyOCSCleaned= 7%). Paid paper readers tend to be older, with lower education, more laborers and housewives. Free paper readers mainly compose of more males, even older in age, with lower education, more laborers, housewives, retired and unemployed people. Online paper readers are younger, with higher education, come from administrative or professional background or being student.

Further analysis will be focused on the predicting factors of these three types of readers. We will also see whether there are significant changes over the one-year time lag when we compare the 2008 and 2009 survey data.

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