The interactive publishing consultancy Digital Deliverance said that the online newspaper has proven to be a failed business model. "It is not too early to make that judgement," it said.
Highlighting feeble visitor ratings, the consultancy said: "The online newspaper industry openly needs to discuss its lame online circulation, despite any discomfort and controversy that might arouse."
The Nielson/Netratings show that the most successful online newspaper sites are only commanding the attention of readers for around 20 minutes per month. The best sites - WSJ.com and washtimes.com - have users logging on fewer than five times in a month and viewing only around 20 pages.
Digital Deliverance said that even if the ratings were out by 200 or 300% they were still disastrous.
The company compares these online statistics with other figures that show that average readers in Japan spend 20 minutes per day with a daily paper. The equivalent figure for the UK is 28 minutes.
"No web server upgrades, no new middleware enhancements, no site redesigns in the foreseeable future are going to fundamentally improve web newspapers' on-site times, frequencies, and pages viewed," the company said.
"The problem is rooted not in technology, design or content but in human behaviour towards the inherent limitations of the Web as a medium."
The negative outlook for online content was reinforced with a equally pessimistic forecast from the technology research consultancy Pfeiffer.
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