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The Washington Post Has Subtly Changed How It Talks About Digital Gains

The Washington Post has tweaked how it presents gains in digital readership over the past few months. The picture presented by  headlines on its press releases is one of unceasing gains, rather than the normal month-to-month fluctuation with which most publishers are familiar. But by one important metric, the Post has had up months and down months, too.

Last October, the Post hit a milestone: For the first time, it had more online readers–uniquely measured individuals who visited its digital properties–than the New York Times.

Advertisers have traditionally prized unique visitors over pageviews, which are a metric publishers can juice by paginating articles or inserting slideshows, for example. If you visit one a story that sports such gimmicks, you’ll likely be counted as one unique visitor but you’ll give the publisher several pageviews as you click along.

So it’s interesting that in its releases about January and February‘s traffic, the Post has emphasized pageviews and not individual readers. Contrast that to its releases about December, November, and October‘s traffic.

To the Post‘s credit, its two most recent announcements did include the number of unique users, but you have to read through a lot of old posts to see it had roughly 3 million fewer users in February than it did in December. In January the Post said it “recorded nearly 70 million digital readers.” (comScore, whose data the Post has used in these announcements, tells Washingtonian the Post had 69.6 million uniques in January.) “Overall, we are still growing,” says Post spokesperson Kris Coratti.

Danielle Rhoades-Ha, a spokesperson for the New York Times, tells Washingtonian the Times‘s February numbers are not yet available but that it had 72.9 million unique users in the US in January, and 86.5 million worldwide.

The Post‘s announcement Thursday included a chart that showed it zooming past BuzzFeed in terms of pageviews. (My former coworker Ben Mullin dug in on the question of whether the Post has really lapped BuzzFeed.) I have so far been unable to get a comment from a BuzzFeed spokesperson on this point, but it may simply be that it and the Post are hitting a similar ceiling on growth when it comes to that metric. Re/code’s Peter Kafka reported last month that BuzzFeed’s uniques have “been anchored in the 75 million to 80 million range for the last year.” At that size, Kafka wrote, “it’s going to be hard to get much bigger, no matter what metric you use.”

Courtesy comScore, here are the Post‘s unique visitor counts over the past year. These numbers still show remarkable growth over time. All figures are in thousands of users.

January 2015 47,815
February 2015 48,256
March 2015 52,168
April 2015 50,477
May 2015 47,808
June 2015 54,353
July 2015 53,528
August 2015 52,136
September 2015 59,153
October 2015 66,879
November 2015 71,563
December 2015 75,990
January 2016 69,605
February 2016 73,361

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.