Newspaper Sectional Reading

A newspaper can be a very weighty matter. For example, the Sunday edition may weigh more than a kilogram. This leads to a very interesting question: Do people read every page of a newspaper? In this essay, we will use data from the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica study to look at reading behavior of Sunday newspapers.

From our study, we found that 30.7% of all persons read Sunday newspapers. This estimate is obtained from a sequence of questions: First, a three-month screen to obtain a list of Sunday newspaper read by the survey respondent. Then, for each listed newspaper, we asked, "When was the last time that you read or looked into a Sunday issue of [name of newspaper]?" The respondent is classified as a reader if they read since last Sunday. This sequence of question has been used in many countries around the world.

A typical Sunday newspaper is divided into multiple sections. So we presented a list of standard newspaper sections and ask the respondents to indicate those sections that they read regularly. Our list consist of these sections:

We should point out that these sections do not necessarily appear in all newspapers. Within a newspaper, these sections may not be mutually exclusive. For example, we may find the crossword puzzle inside the magazine section. Our categorization may not match the physical sections in the actual newspapers. For illustrative purposes, we will describe the physical organization of the sections in a sample of newspapers:

Clarín (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Section Description
Main Section Politics (p.1-17)
Opinion (p.18-21)
Economy (p.22-29)
International (p.30-37)
General Information (p.38-51)
Police/Crime (p.52-56)
Sports (p.57-84)
Horse Racing (p.85-89)
Classified Ads (p.90)
Obituaries (p.91)
Services (e.g. airplane arrival/departure times) (p.92)
Society (p.93)
Weather (p.94)
Summary (p.95)
Comics (p.96)
Viva, La Revista de Clarín Travel, interviews, horoscope, culture, cooking, crosswords, puzzles. 100 pages
Supplements Includes Arts & Fashion (12 pages), Events Guides (20 pages), Education (8 pages), Tourism/Travel (16 pages), Economy (16 pages), Employment Classified Ads(10 pages)
Classified Ads Real estate, items for sale (48 pages)

O Globo Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Section Description
Front Section International news, national news, local news, editorial
Boa Chance Employment, including classified ads
Economia Business and economy
O Mundo International news and analysis
Esportes Sports
Ciência e vida Science, health and medicine
Segundo Carderno Culture
Classificados Classified ads, including autos, professional services, etc
Jornal de Famíliar Family, nutrition, cooking
Planeta de Globo Comics
Morar Bem Real estate, including classified ads
Revista de TV Television

El Tiempo Bogotá, Colombia

Section Description
Section A Editorial, national/national news, politics, opinions
Section B Panorama, television, entertainment, people, crossword, horoscope
Section C Health, education, culture
Section D Sports
Section E Business, classified ads
Lecturas Domicales Magazine supplement: books, art, comics

El Comercio Lima, Peru

Section Description
Section A Headlines, national news, politics, editorial, Lima news
Section B International news
Section C Culture, entertainment, television, radio
Section D Business classified ads (real estate, autos, professional services)
Section E Economy and business
Section F Metropolitan, employment classifieds, horoscope, crosswords, puzzles, comics
Section G Youth, music, computers, education
Section H Family, health, society, people
Sports Sports
Magazine "El Dominical, Magazine de Actualidad, Cultura & Espectaculo"

From these examples, we see that there are many different ways of organization and presentation. The specific organization adopted by a newspaper reflects the personality of the publication. Readers also become accustomed to the organization, and a make-over is rarely done for this reason. We also note that the online versions of these newspapers do not have the breadth and scope of the paper versions. This is an interesting circumstance which would be too lengthy a digression for us to get into here.

Among the readers of Sunday newspapers, we found that the mean number of sections regularly read is 6.2, while the median number of sections regularly read is 4. About 16% of the readers regularly read 10 or more sections.

The most popular newspaper section is 'Local/domestic/national news' (read by 65% of the readers), followed by 'Sports' (read by 59%). The least popular sections are 'Home & Decoration' (read by 13%) and 'Letters from the Readers' (read by 12%). Newspaper sections do not arise in a vacuum, because they are there in response to consumer demands and competitive pressure. For example, there would not be a Computer section anywhere twenty years ago.

The fact that the readers seldom read all the sections have ramifications for advertisers. If different types of readers read different sections, then the sectional placement of an ad becomes an important issue. Some situations are clear: a car dealer probably wants to be in the Automobile section, a computer store wants to be in the Computer section, a travel agent wants to be in the Travel section, etc.

In other situations, the choices are less obvious. For example, think about an airline. The Travel section is one obvious place. But are there other opportunities? What about Business section for the business traveler who makes frequent trips, for example? Or think about a beverage producer. The Sports section, the Youth section and the Food section all have their special appeals.

This last thought leads us to contemplate the possibility that newspaper readers can be segmented on the basis of their sectional readership. That is, certain readers read certain sections. We conducted a factor analysis of sectional readership behavior, and we were able to create three factors (or groupings of newspaper sections):

Factor Component Sections
Local/domestic/national news; International news; Business/finance/economy; Politics; Weather; Letters from the Readers; Opinions/Editorials
Sports; Comics, Crosswords, Horoscopes; Events/movies; Cable/Broadcast Television Guides; Computers; Automobiles; Magazine Supplements
Interviews; Society/People; Tourism/Travel; Style/Fashion; Cooking; Health; Home & Decoration; Family; Kids/Youth.

In non-technical terms, people who read the sections listed in one factor also tend to read the other sections listed in that same factor.

Who are the readers of these sectional groups? Since the base for the analysis is the Sunday newspaper readers, they are all disproportionately better educated and more affluent (SES A/B) than the general population.

These groups of people are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As we noted, 16% of all readers read 10 or more sections. However, there is not a lot of overlap among the groups either. This explains why Sunday newspapers weigh a couple of kilograms. Even though one may want to read only certain sections, they cannot be purchased à la carte and one must bring the whole bundle home. Some sections indeed go unread altogether, which is a complete waste. Someday, perhaps, the online newspapers may be customized on a one-to-one basis to meet personal needs. Until then, the garbage dumps will be overflowing, the recycling plants will be running overtime ...

(by Roland Soong, 12/16/97)

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