Did newspaper subscribers ever really pay for content, or were they just paying for the paperboy to deliver news to their homes?
Today fewer people are willing to pay for home delivery of the news and they can get only the information they want online, free, whenever they want it. Increasingly this news is coming from blogs and niche sites, or is steered to consumers through referral sites that curate the best of the Web.
Startups like, StumbleUpon, Digg and Reddit are playing an increasingly important role in the news business, driving huge traffic to content sites, and they are essentially becoming the paperboys of the 21st century.
StumbleUpon in particular has seen remarkable growth in the past year, delivering 700 million pageviews to publishers in December, and increasing its own traffic 20 percent, according to TechCrunch.
This year Digg shed one third of its traffic, dropping from just shy of 8 million monthly viewers in December 2009 to 5.2 million viewers in November 2010, the last month for which Compete stats are available. Pageviews to StumbleUpon grew 73 percent during 2010, clocking in almost 4 million visitors in November, according to Compete.
While the purpose of StumbleUpon is to generate traffic for other sites, Digg has long tried to capture traffic for itself, before sending visitors offsite to the original content. This further masks the rise of StumbleUpon versus its competitor. And because much of StumbleUpon traffic is generated through its link shortener su.pr, which takes advantage of microblogging site Twitter, it employs multiple modes of generating traffic.
However, audiences are even less loyal to link referral sites than they are to imperiled newspapers, as the saga of Digg illustrates. And just because people stumble onto content, it doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there, as the commenters on the TechCrunch story pointed out.
But while individual referral platforms may rise or fall, content creators should be working on strategies to leverage these trends, and get in on what amounts to a ton free traffic.