And, at the height of hubris, we envision that every reader, every day, reads or at least sees each story we print. With this belief in mind, journalists frequently pass on stories with the excuse that "We already did that story a few weeks ago" -- as if everyone must have seen it then.
The Myth Of Regular Readership was never true, and it is even less true online. Nonetheless, many newspaper folk who continue to think of their websites as a digital edition of the paper have carried this myth online.
Born-again newspaperman Jeff Jarvis described this in a past post:
The problem here is the myth of regular readership. When I started newspaper sites, I had publishers on my rear because they expected people to read them every day, just as (they thought) people read newspapers. But just because the thing plops on the front porch every day, that doesn’t mean everybody reads everything – or sees every ad. That was the myth that fueled overpriced ad rates and overinflated editorial egos. Online, we get to see what people really read – and what it’s really worth to them – and that’s a lot less than we ever thought.
The reality is, most visitors to a given newspaper website come by just a few times a month -- usually to see some specific report they heard about from an acquaintance. The average visitor spends about 5 to 15 minutes on the site in a month.
Very few visitors are the diehard daily loyalists we imagine come to us for all the day's package of news. The web browsing experience does not involve long, deep stays on one domain.
News is shared via links among social networks and various types of aggregators and organizers.
Each site gets its 15 minutes of fame a month. If you think you can force users to pay for access, can you think of any service you use for 15 minutes a month that you would pay regular fees for? Especially if you could get a similar service elsewhere for free?
Replace the Myth of Regular Readership with the Truth of Irregular Readership -- and build your business model on that. Your hardcore 10% of diehard daily readers may be willing to pay, but consider the "long tail" of infrequent users you will turn away. You could gain a few bucks in the shortterm, but also administrative headaches and loss of relevance and advertising.