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Online newspaper readership climbed 6 percent last year

AP , NEW YORK

US newspapers' online audiences grew about 6 percent last year, an industry group reported on Thursday, a rare bit of good news for an industry struggling to adapt as readers and advertising dollars continue to migrate online.

Web sites run by newspapers had an average of 60 million unique US visitors per month last year, up from 56.4 million the year before, according to data released by Newspaper Association of America (NAA) and compiled by Nielsen Online, a Web audience measurement agency owned by the Nielsen Co.

But with the growth in the total online audience, the online reach of newspapers grew somewhat less, with 38 percent of all active online users visiting newspaper Web sites last year, up from 36 percent in 2006.

Many newspapers have been adding online features such as video, blogs, jazzier graphics, online community features and links to other Web sites in an effort to lure in more readers and compete with other outlets of information online, including blogs and portals like Yahoo Inc.

Daytime visitors are very important for newspapers since online traffic is highest then, as many people log on from work. Nielsen Online said its measurements accounted for people logging on from work or home.

Last year, the New York Times scrapped a two-year effort to charge online visitors for access to certain parts of its Web site, hoping that the additional traffic would result in higher online advertising revenues.

"News organizations were very aggressive in 2007 in adapting new tools to their sites," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. "Everybody's adding either connections to blogs, as well as encouraging some staffers to blog themselves."

Revenues from online advertising have been growing at newspapers, but not yet fast enough to replace the declines in their traditional print ad business.

Total newspaper ad revenue fell 7.4 percent in the third quarter of last year, the latest period for which the NAA has reported figures. Within that total, print ad revenues fell 9 percent to US$10.1 billion, while online revenues rose 21 percent to US$773 million, NAA said.

Nielsen and comScore Inc compile data on online audiences using panels. However, many newspapers and other publishers of Web sites take issue with some of those measurements, saying their own internal data show higher numbers of visitors to their Web sites.

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