Editorially, the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum (Canada). Before the Internet liberated the news from broadsheets, and consumers had to purchase an entire newspaper to read the news, these editorial ideologies were prime identifiers. We live in a time now where we can theoretically access news stories individually, without necessarily embracing the entire editorial perspective of the news organization, but do we? What does the reach of these publications’ web properties tell us about our reading habits and the success of their online efforts?
The metrics identified for both the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun by popular web traffic intelligence services Alexa and SimilarWeb produce a relative comparison of the sites’ popularity and their users.
For the month of August 2013, the estimated total number of visits to thestar.com (7.6 million) far outranks that of torontosun.com (3 million). Alexa ranks the Toronto Star site the 63rd most popular website in Canada versus Toronto Sun’s 179. Incidentally, the National Post score is 95 and The Globe and Mail is 41.
Daily page views per visitor (between 2 and 3) are consistent between the two; as well, time spent on the sites varies by about 30 seconds on average (3:39 at the Sun site versus 4:18 at the Star, according to Alexa; and 2:37 Sun versus 2:51 Star, according to SimilarWeb).
Significant differences arise regarding the education level attained by the readership, and the sources of web traffic that leads to the sites. Alexa identifies four categories of education: No College, Some College, Graduate School, and College. The following is a grid I’ve created to illustrate the differences.
As you can see, there is an over-representation of Toronto Sun readers who have no college experience (Torontosun.com Site Info) and conversely an under-representation of Toronto Star readers with no college experience (Torontostar.com Site Info). Add to it the under-representation of Toronto Sun readers with graduate school experience. Though the readership is similar for both publications’ websites as it regards both “some college” and “college” graduates, the result reveals a contrast at the fringe of the demographic. Depending on the product, advertisers are likely to find the model Toronto Star reader more desirable.
SimilarWeb tracked the sources of traffic to the news sites over a three month period and found the following information (click on the graphs for a closer view).
It is the Referrals and Social categories that are most telling here. As it regards torontosun.com, the top four referrers are canoe.ca properties (Torontosun.com – Website Traffic). Canoe is a lifestyle website and information aggregator, similar to the Yahoo.ca homepage, that is owned by Quebecor Media, the same company that owns the Toronto Sun (Quebecor). The Toronto Star’s top three referrers are Fark.com (a social network that allows users to comment on funny or weird news stories), the popular news reader Feedly, and the film score aggregator Rotten Tomatoes (Torontostar.com – Website Traffic). As a brand, Quebecor Media has an edge on its competition, via the coordination of the owned properties canoe.ca and torontosun.com.
Social sources of traffic to these sites are equally revealing. Both news sites boast admirable Facebook and Twitter activity that contributes to overall page views. For thestar.com, 53% of all social referrals come from Facebook, and 16% come from Twitter (Torontostar.com – Website Traffic). For torontosun.com, the numbers are 38% Facebook and 14.5% Twitter (Torontosun.com – Website Traffic). Social news site Reddit is a significant player for both sites: on thestar.com 20% of all social referrals come from Reddit; for torontosun.com, it is 47%. This suggests a highly engaged readership for the Sun (Reddit). Which brand is experiencing the greater success here? I’d call it a draw: both are utilizing two different social networks effectively to great success, though the user-generated links on Reddit is particularly notable.
So are we embracing the editorial perspective of the media we receive? I haven’t physically purchased a newspaper in a number of years, but I used to be the type who would buy a copy of every Saturday edition I could find: my local daily, the Toronto Star, the Sun, Globe and Mail and the National Post, just to read the editorial differences and analyze the ways each paper worked to engage readers with longform journalism and opinion-based writing. Is that uncommon? By the looks on the sales clerks’ faces at the cash register, yes.
Online, it’s supposed to be a whole new game, where we have the freedom to pick and choose the stories we want to read, yet this analysis suggests otherwise. With the growth of the Internet I find I have less time to allocate toward reading a print newspaper but plenty of time in any random day to steal a moment and read a story or two when I find it. How do I find those stories? E-mail subscriptions, Facebook, Twitter, the Yahoo homepage. We may not be intentionally ascribing to the editorial perspectives of these media organizations, but by opting into these media companies’ feed of stories they share on our social networks, we unwittingly may very well be doing just that.
It is fascinating to discover the differences among readers of these two websites, given the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun are politically and editorially such polar opposites. Because it has vertically integrated its web properties so well, the Toronto Sun (and its parent company) have created an impressive community. The raw numbers support the Toronto Star — remember its estimated number of web visitors handily doubles that of the Sun — so I would think that being a conservative voice in a left-leaning society the Toronto Sun wouldn’t necessary aspire to such an embrace by the masses. It appears to have done the next best thing: harness the readers it does have.
There are other online data that could help assess the strengths of each property. For one: a collection of newsworthy items that may be contributing to the demographic reach of each website would be a great help. For example, I know the Toronto Star implemented a paywall on thestar.com in the middle of August which may have impacted readership. An analysis regarding the success of the torontosun.com’s paywall would provide great insight. As well, the vertical integration of the Quebecor Media properties isn’t readily apparent; I know from personal experience that plenty of news stories are shared among the massive Sun Media newspaper chain, which is also owned by Quebecor, that may benefit the overall brand though not necessarily for each individual property.
“Canada – World Newspapers and Magazines.” Worldpress.org. Worldpress.org. N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.
Fig. 1. Folded newspapers on keyboard from: One Park Place Condominiums. “One Park Place Condos Recent Toronto Sun Articles.” One Park Place Condos. CondoBrothers.com N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.
Fig. 2. Toronto Star traffic sources graph from: SimilarWeb. “Website Traffic Overview.” SimilarWeb.com. SimilarGroup. N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.
Fig. 3. Toronto Sun traffic sources graph from: SimilarWeb. “Website Traffic Overview.” SimilarWeb.com. SimilarGroup. N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.
Fig. 4. Ditchburn, Jennifer. “Newspaper Closures Hit Tory Ridings Hardest.” metronews.ca. Metro. 17 July 2013. Web. 8 October 2013.
“Nationalpost.com Site Info.” Alexa.com. Alexa Internet Inc. N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.
“Nationalpost.com – Website Traffic.” SimilarWeb.com. SimilarGroup. N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.
“Quebecor Media.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 September 2013. Web. 8 October 2013.
“Reddit.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 October 2013. 8 October 2013.
“Theglobeandmail.com Site Info.” Alexa.com. Alexa Internet Inc. N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.
“Theglobeandmail.com – Website Traffic.” SimilarWeb.com. SimilarGroup. N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.
thestar.com. Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. 1996-2013. Web. 8 October 2013.
torontosun.com. Canoe Sun Media Urban Newspapers. 2013. Web. 8 October 2013.
“Thestar.com Site Info.” Alexa.com. Alexa Internet Inc. N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.
“Thestar.com – Website Traffic.” SimilarWeb.com. SimilarGroup. N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.
“Torontosun.com Site Info.” Alexa.com. Alexa Internet Inc. N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.
“Torontosun.com – Website Traffic.” SimilarWeb.com. SimilarGroup. N.d. Web. 8 October 2013.