Whenever I told people I worked at a newspaper, they would usually respond with “I love that paper,” or, more importantly, “It’s the only paper I read.’

Nowadays, when I tell people I work at the same newspaper’s web site, they respond “I love that paper,” or “It’s the only paper I read.”

I’ll occasionally hear “I like your web site,” but what I DON’T hear is “It’s the only web site I read.”

Why is that? Why are readers loyal to print, but not so much to electronic versions?

Two things: First, customer loyalty to one brand seems to be a thing of the past. While we have favorites, we no longer stick to one brand just because “it’s always been good in the past.” For example, I love Hondas and have owned three in my lifetime. But, I currently own a Nissan. Why? When I was looking for a new car, I looked at Hondas but wasn’t satisfied with the offerings at the time. The Nissan Maxima I bought fulfilled what I was looking for, and has proven to be just as reliable as the Hondas I’ve owned in the past. But, when I buy my next car, I’ll definitely look at Hondas again. And Nissans. And any other car that fits my needs.

Second, Reading patterns have changed. The explosion of information has made us into grazers. We skim for information and pick it up in bits and pieces. We quickly digest it and move on. We graze the same spot many times, but we won’t stay there very long. Those who say “it’s the only paper I read” tend to be older readers who grew up before television, cable, and the Internet began to vie for attention.

So what does this mean to newspaper web sites? It means that even if your readers like you, they’re loyal to you ONLY when you have what they want and when they want it. It also means that, if you want your site to be viable, you have to know what your readers want, then be there when they want it. If Honda was there with a car that met what I was looking for, I’d still be driving one.

The trick is being consistent with it. Make sure your site is fresh with news and information that the reader learns that, if he come here first, he’ll get what I need. Do that, and you’ve suddenly got some loyalty…even if your reader won’t admit it.

Though it would be nice to hear “it’s the only web site I only read!”


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