Here's an interesting post from Inksniffer, aka John Duncan, once managing editor of the Observer. He's delved into the thorny and opaque world of web stats and come up with some interesting conclusions.
His contention is that Internet metrics substantially exaggerate the importance of the newspaper web audience. His arithmetic, which seems unimpeachable, demonstrates that, for example, the Guardian, generally hailed as the great success of newspaper websites, has around 270,000 daily readers, compared with the 310,000 or so that buy the paper each day. Other sites, we may assume, are doing less well. This is in stark contrast to the audience claimed for newspaper websites, which are routinely denominated in the millions.
Why the discrepancy? Essentially, as John explains, because the web's currency of choice is monthly unique users, which in turn is probably because, in their infancy, internet companies needed to make their audiences look as large as possible. We're now hooked on these large numbers and unable to scale down to anything more realistic.
John uses his analysis to argue that newspapers are not doing anything like as badly as people claim and this is where I part company with him. Newspapers are in serious trouble and the fact that their websites are not performing as well as they would like us to believe doesn't change that unpalatable fact.
The biggest online sources of news are not newspaper sites at all but the BBC (streets ahead of the competition) and then the likes of Yahoo!, Google, MSN, AOL, Sky (with the Guardian somewhere in the mix). These are the places where an increasing part of the public gets its news, rather than from newspapers, or even their websites.