Hard copy readership of US newspapers continues its downward spiral as readers opt instead for online versions of their favorite titles. According to Nielsen/NetRating, over one in five (21%) of web users who read daily newspapers now do so online.

Leading the online pack is the straight-faced NYTimes.com, with 11.3 million unique visitors in May, reports NNR. Lagging by over a million visitors daily is USAToday.com with 9.2 million unique visitors; while WashingtonPost.com occupies third position with 7.4m.

Two Californian titles occupy the remaining top five places: the LA Times with 3.8m unique visitors and SFGate.com, the cyber-moniker of the San Francisco Chronicle with 3.4m.

NNR reports that although the majority of newspaper readers still turn to the traditional print edition, the trend away from newsprint to VDUs is steadily increasing.

According to a Newspaper Association of America analysis of the key ABC numbers, newspapers' total average daily circulation dipped 1.9% to 47.4 million in the six-month period to March 31. Sunday circulation fell 2.5% to 51m in the same period.

Comments NNR's senior media analyst Gerry Davidson: "Immediacy and interactivity are delivering what the technology allows them to do." He cites as examples, original, internet-specific content that seeks to keep readers on the site. That content includes online message boards, editorial blogs and up-to-the-minute news postings, all of which leverage the medium's strengths.

Men make up 53% of online readers; women comprise 47%. Comparatively, women make up 57% of those who read newspapers primarily in print.

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff