US newspaper websites are attracting users at a faster pace than the internet overall with visitor numbers up 11 per cent annually, according to figures released yesterday by Nielsen/NetRatings.

The research could take some of the sting out of a report last week that said print circulation at US newspapers fell 2.6 per cent over the past six months, period, one of the sharpest drops in 20 years. ?The growth among newspaper websites demonstrates that these entities offer unique incentives to visitors,? said Gerry Davison, analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings.

He said the development of interactive features such as weblogs, podcasts and streaming video and audio was helping to make ?newspaper websites an increasingly appealing choice for news?.

The central challenge for newspaper publishers is to make money from their growing online operations while they minimise costs in their core print businesses.

Only some newspapers have succeeded at charging readers for their online content. Also, they have had to settle for lower advertising rates online because there is more competition.

The difficulties facing US newspapers were highlighted this week by Knight Ridder, the second-largest US newspaper chain, which said on Monday it would explore a sale in order to appease frustrated shareholders.

Nielsen/NetRatings said the number of unique visitors at US newspaper sites reached 39.3m in October, up 11 per cent from the previous year and equivalent to about 26 per cent of the active US internet population. By contrast, the overall number of active internet users rose 3 per cent from the previous year, it said.

The New York Times had the most popular US site with 11.4m unique users. USA Today was next with 10.4m, followed by The Washington Post with 8.1m unique and the Los Angeles Times with 3.9m. unique.

Website growth rates were 15 per cent at The New York Times, 8 per cent at USA Today, 28 per cent at The Washington Post and 23 per cent at the Los Angeles Times.

Twenty-two per cent of the US readers said they preferred online editions to print newspapers, while 71 per cent preferred print and 7 per cent said they divided their time.

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