Desktop, laptop use of New York Times’ website drops over two years

People using computers at home and work spent less time on in April and May of 2012 than they did during the same months in 2010, according to Nielsen figures released to Poynter. The average time-on-site (in minutes) for home and work computers in the U.S. for April and May for the last two years:

April 2010 April 2011 April 2012 Change 2011-2012 Change 2010-2012
15:50 13:20 14:02 5% -11%
May 2010 May 2011 May 2012 Change 2011-2012 Change 2010-2012
14:46 13:05 12:26 -5% -16%

We asked for the figures to see if the paywall had affected how much time users spend on the site — discouraging drive-by traffic and encouraging more loyal, paying customers to visit. Instead, the figures appear to show how mobile devices are chipping away at the amount of time that users spend on their desktop and laptop computers, the Times says.

The Times wasn’t able to confirm Nielsen’s numbers, but spokeswoman Eileen Murphy provided comScore figures that show a similar decline in time-on-site (in minutes) from June 2010 to June 2012:

June 2010 June 2011 June 2012 Change 2011-2012 Change 2010-2012
32:09 30:02 30:26 1.3% -5.3%
Note: The comScore time-on-site figure appears to be double Nielsen’s, perhaps an artifact of measurement differences.

“Neither figure alarms us as these time measurements are for desktop/laptop visitors consuming text content,” she told me by email. “Missing from these figures is time spent with our ever-expanding video content as well as time spent with our mobile and tablet offerings, which are far more available today than they were two years ago.”

To her point, the first iPad was released at the beginning of April 2010. Other research has shown that computer usage is highest during the day and iPad usage picks up at night.

Her theory seems to be borne out by the drop in unique visitors from home and work computers for news sites in general, which Nielsen provided separately.

The “current events and global news” category was down 6 percent from May 2010 to May 2012; the Times posted a 2 percent drop in those two years. However, the Times’ unique visitors rose 13 percent in the second year (May 2011 to May 2012) while the segment overall dropped 8 percent. (Those figure are for U.S. visitors only.)

Murphy doesn’t believe that time-on-site has been affected appreciably by the paywall. The Times has tried to retain much of its drive-by traffic by allowing nonsubscribers to read stories linked on other sites, search results and social media.

In April, the Times dropped its threshold of free stories to 10 stories a month. At the time, Murphy said a “relatively small” number of nonsubscribers clicked on between 10 and 20 stories a month.

Related: 4 strategies for news companies as mobile ads displace desktop exposure

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  • Joshua Benton

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but time-on-site numbers are independent of number of unique visitors/visits, right? 

    To take an extreme example, a site with 10 visitors who spent 20 minutes each/visit would have a time-on-site of 20 minutes.

    If the site grew and suddenly had 10 million visitors who spent 10 minutes each/visit, that would lower time-on-site by 50% — but obviously the total audience for the site has grown a ton.

    If I’ve got that right, I don’t think these numbers illustrate one way or the other that “desktop, laptop use of New York Times’ website dropped over two years.” That may be true, but it’d take visits/visitor numbers to show that, I think.

  • Anonymous

    Steve: What I’ve never heard NYT articulate is why they have different thresholds for mobile apps and viewing NYT content on a web browser (i.e., for non-subscribers). Not only is the number threshold completely different, but the article choice is different, too:
    Mobile – free for articles that NYT editors choose (300+/month)
    Desktop web – free for any articles that the USER chooses (10/month)

    This makes it awfully difficult to draw conclusions.

  • Poynter

    @steveouting:disqus That’s a good point. Given that, users would be encouraged to use mobile devices even more. But do you think it contradicts their reasoning?

    Steve Myers

  • Anonymous

    Steve: I think you missed an important point. On iPhone and iPad NYT apps, non-subscribers can read all the “top stories” (10-12 a day, every day). Over a month, that’s a lot of free articles to read if you have a mobile device. (I’m not certain if the NYT app for Android phones and tablets is the same, but probably and I’m too lazy/busy to check right now.) By contrast, if you view NYT content on a computer with a web browser, you only get 10 articles per month if not a subscriber.

    Given that, I don’t think you can draw any supportable conclusions. But of course, the general trend is for news reading to gravitate more to mobile devices and away from laptops and desktops.