In the last three years, the number of newspapers hosted by TownNew.com has grown by 50 percent — while the bandwidth consumed has grown by more than 600 percent!

In January 2002, we hosted just over 600 papers. We now host approximately 920 papers. (It's difficult to get an exact number because some papers publish multiple papers under "umbrella" sites.)

In January 2002, TownNews.com papers at the peak times were consuming 17 megabit per seconds of bandwidth. TownNews.com is now buying up to 160 megs per second from our Internet backbone supplier, Level 3. On a regular business day, TownNews.com papers are consuming 100 megs per second of bandwidth.

In the month that just ended, we — for the first time — recorded over 1 billion hits (1,057,659,643, to be exact). Our logs showed that our newspaper sites transferred 5.563 terabytes of information. The total visitor count was 47,558,031 and page views totaled over 177 million.

It may be difficult to comprehend terabytes and megabytes, but the important thing to note is the huge growth in Internet traffic generated by online newspapers.

What caused this huge traffic growth?

Probably the most important factor is the steady increase in broadband penetration in the United States. Last year was a watershed year: More than half of all Americans now have access to high-speed Internet service.

High-speed access has a multiplying effect. People who have high-speed access don't just do the same amount of work online in less time; they actually spend three to five times more time online — all at higher speeds.

More and more content is online, including rich media such as flash and streaming video. People expect to have instant access to news, classifieds, travel information, shopping, medical and health news, etc.

Good online newspapers usually are the No. 1 most visited Internet sites in their trade areas. This occurs because they have content that is updated regularly and because newspapers have great promotional power.

Are online newspapers making money?

Three years ago, most newspapers were relying — sometimes exclusively — on porting classified ads from print to web, and adding a buck or two for the extra circulation. This paid the online costs and then some, but didn't affect the overall bottom line much.

Gradually, newspapers have found out how to monetize their online newspapers. They sell banners and badge ads, sponsorships, in-story ads, etc. The biggest recent boost has come from Top Ads technology — Top Jobs, Top Cars, Top Homes, etc. Some papers successfully host database advertising systems for cars, homes and employment.

There is a demand for Internet advertising. The Kelsey Group recently completed a study that said 61 percent of local businesses would like to buy Internet advertising, but only 14 percent have actually done so.

Since January 2002, the TownNews.com SWAT team has sold over $14 million worth of Internet advertising for member newspapers. The key to our SWAT team's success: Asking for the order.

Online newspapers are booming in terms of readership, reach and reader loyalty. Customers are willing — even eager — to buy online advertising. Newspaper sales staffs need to get better at selling these great online products.

(Marc Wilson is ceo of TownNews.com and president of the Job Network. He's reachable at marcus@townnews.com.)