Nature has an article summarizing some recent research showing that readership of online news falls off significantly by 36 hours after posting, with most subsequent readership traffic coming from archives/Google search.
Fair enough, I suppose, but where’ s the news in this news news? It is as expected, and the fall-off in readership in paper-based news is almost certainly even faster: Papers don’t last long before they are tossed, and Lexis-Nexis access is a pretty high hurdle for your average consumer. What is interesting about online content, however, is that search creates a steady background hum of readership for pretty much everything.
Consider: In any given month what percentage of the 1,394 articles on this site do you think are visited by people using searches at MSN/Google/etc.? The answer: Almost all of them. Last month my referral log showed that a remarkably high percentage of articles on this site (okay, 1,073 articles) had at least one search-driven visit.
What, if anything, does all of this mean? Well, it means the burden of financial proof is on people who persist in closing off their online archives. Because over time, most of your readership for many articles will come from search, not from first display. I just did a quick-and-dirty analysis, and something like 28% of my articles have had more visits since going into the archives than they had when first displayed.
To go full circle, all of this reminds me that way back when I ran GrokSoup (the long-ago blogging service that I way-prematurely shut down) one of my favorite features — almost six years ago — was one that allowed people to have articles sort themselves according to popularity, not date posted. There was a moving window, of course, such that you didn’t have front-page news from days/weeks/years ago dominating forever, but it was still a nice way to rethink news so that readers could route around the perishability of content.