Scott Stanford: Annual reader survey helps us be a better newspaper
August 14, 2012
Steamboat Springs — When we did our first reader survey in 2010, only one-third of Steamboat residents had a smartphone. Our mobile website — m.SteamboatToday.com — averaged just 75 users per day, less than one-third of 1 percent of our total readership.
Two years later, more than 1,900 people each day visit our mobile websites. In fact, 10 percent of our total readership — the sum of daily print newspaper circulation, website users and app users — now comes via a cellphone or tablet computer, such as an iPad. And that mobile readership is growing rapidly. Traffic is up more than 40 percent in the past month alone.
It is trends such as mobile readership that our annual reader survey helps us identify. On Wednesday, we kick off our 2012 survey, which will run for two weeks. We're hoping for 1,500 responses before the survey ends Aug. 31. To provide some incentive to help us out, we're going to give away a $500 Steamboat shopping spree to one of the survey participants.
To fill out the survey, just click here. It takes about 15 minutes to complete.
The rapid increase in mobile readership was just one of the things we learned from last year's survey. Other interesting tidbits:
■ Just 24 percent of respondent said they would be willing to pay as much as 25 cents per issue for the print edition of the Steamboat Today. But that's more than double the 10.2 percent who said they would consider paying a "reasonable fee" for access to SteamboatToday.com.
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■ The highest-scoring content in last year's survey included News in Brief, Happenings and local human-interest stories and features. Coverage of local business, education, crime, and arts and entertainment all scored better than coverage of city and county government, and readers gave a slight edge to national news stories over state and world news.
■ Liberal columnists scored slightly better with readers than conservative columnists, but neither scored nearly as well as local editorials and letters to the editor.
■ When it comes to sports, readers care most about coverage of local events such as the Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race Series and the Steamboat Springs Running Series. The Outdoors page and coverage of local high school sports also did well.
■ There was a time when sports fanatics like myself pored over the sports agate — the daily small print providing sports scores and standings from across the country. Not anymore — professional sports scores and standings scored near the bottom of our content offerings.
■ The only content in the 2011 survey that scored worse than professional sports scores and standings were horoscopes and the Sudoku and crossword puzzles. As a result, we kept the puzzles but eliminated daily horoscopes, choosing a weekly horoscope feature that now is published Sundays.
The Web certainly has had a dramatic impact on the newspaper business, and we're not immune from that transformation. In the past year, our daily Web use exceeded our print newspaper distribution for the first time. We now average 11,713 Web users each day.
As a result, we've tweaked our news delivery, bringing more reporters in early to file stories during peak Web traffic times of 6 to 10 a.m. All stories now are filed and edited on the Web first, and the print edition takes shape after the Web needs have been met.
Still, the print newspaper remains a critically important part of local residents' day. Last year, 80 percent of residents said they pick up the newspaper three times or more per week. When asked if they picked up and read the newspaper yesterday, 71 percent said they had. You would be hard-pressed to find a newspaper in the country with a response rate that high.
Newspaper content is not an exact science. Different readers have different expectations of their local newspaper. Our annual reader survey helps us sort through those expectations. If you have just a few minutes, you can help us be a better newspaper by foiling out the survey here.
Scott Stanford is the general manager of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. He can be reached at 970-871-4202 or sstanford@SteamboatToday.com.