The number one newspaper website in the United States does not deliver the news on paper at all.
The Huffington Post has shot past The New York Times's audience on its website for the first time in May, taking the top spot among the leading newspaper websites south of the border, according to data released Thursday from ComScore Inc., which tracks web traffic.
The New York Times introduced a "metered" pay wall for its website in March, leading to speculation that the paid model would hurt traffic to nytimes.com. (The website allows readers to view a maximum of 20 articles online for free each month, and limits access to additional content for non-subscribers.) The number of unique visitors to the site has indeed dropped 11.7 per cent since March, when the payment model was introduced in March. However, compared with its web results from the same month last year, New York Times traffic was actually up slightly, to 33.6 million unique U.S. visitors compared with 32.5 million in May 2010.
The jockeying for position reflects an increase in visits to huffingtonpost.com rather than declines at the New York Times site. HuffPo's visitors grew 14 per cent from March to May of this year, and compared with May of 2010, the site's visitors have increased 50 per cent, to 35.6 million.
The timing of HuffPo's U.S. growth is particularly poignant for Canada - its new found dominance came in the same month that the website launched a Canadian edition.
"Any time anybody puts up a pay wall, that's good for The Huffington Post," founder Arianna Huffington told reporters during a visit to Toronto in May. In fact, Huffington Post Canada made its debut just one day after Postmedia Network Canada Corp. announced an experiment with a metered pay model on the websites of two of its newspapers, the Victoria Times-Colonist and the Gazette in Montreal.
"We don't see ourselves as supplanting much of the great media you already have. That's not our goal," Ms. Huffington said in an interview with The Globe and Mail last month. "We see it as offering an additional, a great site, where engagement will be key."
Ms. Huffington said she believes in newspapers.
"There will always be newspapers. ... I love reading on paper, and seeing how the stories are positioned, and the pictures. Sure, you have the iPad now. But I really feel there is something in our DNA that likes leafing through the newspaper, that likes curling up in bed with a newspaper," she said.
But away from bed and in front of the screen, at least for now, it appears U.S. readers are gravitating to Ms. Huffington's product.
According to the new ComScore data, The New York Times site was the second most popular newspaper website, followed by the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, and the Wall Street Journal - another prominent newspaper with a pay system for its web products. The final three in that list all brought in less than 20,000 unique visitors in May.