Media as an Information Source
The survey, on which this report is based, assumes that the value of an information source depends on the type of information sought. In the current context, the information sought is business-specific, as in information regarding the formation and operation of a business, and public affairs specific, as in information focusing on public policy and/or civic affairs. As a result, the following text proceeds on these two different, but related, tracks.
Radios are ubiquitous. They are standard equipment in our vehicles; virtually every home has at least one; and, the average American spends more than 1,000 hours a year listening to a radio (Statistical Abstract of the United States). Two of three (68%) small-business employers listen to the radio daily and another 15 percent listen a few times a week (Q#1). Thus, 83 percent could be termed “regular listeners.” Just 5 percent never tune in to the radio.
Most small-business employers who listen to the radio regularly, do so most often while in a vehicle. Sixty-eight (68) percent report they typically listen while riding in a car or truck (Q#1c). Another 25 percent indicate their most frequent listening occurs at work (their place of business), and just 5 percent say they most frequently listen to the radio at home.
When small-business owners listen to the radio at work, they are most likely to listen to music. Three of four (74%) listen principally to music at their place of business while the remainder listen principally to news, information or talk radio (Q#1c1). That means about one in 10 of all small businesses have a radio regularly tuned in their business to a station featuring information.
News and talk (information) are favorite formats for a much larger share of small employers than the 10 percent who primarily listen to that format in their place of business. In fact, the most frequent favorite format among small-employer regular listeners is talk (22%) (Q#1d). Another 11 percent prefer all news and 6 percent prefer sports talk. Thus, about 39 percent of regular listeners have a preference for information in their radio programming. In contrast, 26 percent favor music. The most popular of these is country (11%), oldies (8%) and up-tempo (6%). Another 14 percent indicated “other,” which is likely rock or some variant. Eleven (11) percent selected NPR (National Public Radio) as their favorite radio format. Depending on the NPR station, the format could be dominated by information or music. Totaling preferences, roughly half of small-business owners who listen to radio regularly, regardless of location, prefer an information format while the other half prefers music.
Small-employer regular radio listeners, i.e., those listening daily or a few times a week, are not necessarily listening for business purposes. Just 18 percent report that radio is a very important source for business information (Q#1a). Another 39 percent indicate that radio is an important source. Thus, almost 40 percent of all small-business people, not just regular listeners, think radio is an important source of business information while the remaining 60 percent do not.
Small-business owners attach relatively more importance to radio as a source of information for current events and public affairs than business. Twenty-seven (27) percent of regular listeners indicate that radio is a very important source of news and information on current events and public affairs and another 45 percent indicate that it is an important source (Q#1b). As a result, about half of all small employers think radio is an important information source for current events and public affairs while the other half do not.
Small employers watch television with approximately the same frequency that they listen to the radio. (Frequency should not be confused with duration about which this survey provides no data.) Sixty-four (64) percent claim to watch television every day and another 23 percent claim to watch it a few times a week (Q#2). Eighty-seven (87) percent can then be termed “regular viewers.” Just 2 percent never watch television.
The most frequent type of television programming small-business owners watch either at home or their place of business is local news. Fifty (50) percent of those who watch television regularly, that is to say, every day or a few times a week, watch local news every day and another 28 percent watch it a few times a week (Q#2cA). These data translate into about two-thirds of all small employers watching local news at least a few times a week. Somewhat fewer than one in 10 small employers never watch local news.
A large number of small-business owners also watch national network news. Thirty- five (35) percent who watch television regularly maintain that they watch national network news every day (Q#2cB). Another 31 percent claim to watch a few times a week, and 14 percent say they never watch. As a result, about 57 percent of all small employers watch national network news at least a few times a week compared to 14 percent who never do.
Business cable news also has a relatively large following. Nineteen (19) percent of regular television viewers among the small-business owner population watch business cable news at least daily (Q#2cD). Another 20 percent watch a few times a week though 34 percent say they never watch. Since cable business news networks tend to focus on the financial markets and large, international companies, one could hypothesize that owners of larger, small firms are more likely to watch than owners of smaller, small firms. However, that is not the case. If anything, the opposite occurs. The lack of a relationship suggests that small-business viewers may be more interested in following their investments than obtaining business intelligence that could be directly helpful to their firms.
Many small-business owners also tune in to the morning shows, such as Good Morning America and the Today show, although 47 percent of regular small employer television viewers and a majority of all small employers never do (Q#2cF). Nineteen (19) percent of regular viewers or 16 percent of the population watch one or more morning shows every day and another 13 percent or 11 percent respectively watch a few times a week.
More watch cable talk, such as the O’Reilly Factor or Hannity and Colmes, than the morning shows, but on a less regular basis. Fourteen (14) percent of regular small employer viewers catch cable talk shows every day (Q#2cC). However, another 24 percent catch them a few times a week.
Cable television provides opportunities for some small-business owners to obtain industry-specific information that could be helpful in their business operations. For example, the Food Network provides considerable information that business people in the hospitality industry might find useful. The same is true of certain cable channels for those in the finance industries. Traditionally, agriculture-oriented programs are shown around lunch time in rural areas. Six percent of regular viewers watch television programming relevant to their industry every day and another 15 percent watch such programs a few times a week (Q#2cF). While half of the entire small employer population never views industry-oriented television programming and another third rarely sees any, about one in six watches such programming frequently.
Small employers consider the information they obtain from television notably more important in their role as citizen than in their role as business owner. Twenty-nine (29) percent think television is a very important source for news and information about current events and public affairs and 40 percent more think it is an important source (Q#2b). Thus, three in five of all small employers consider television an important source for news and information about current events and public affairs while two in five do not.
Television is less important as a source for business news. Still, many more small-business people consider television an important source for business news than do not. Nineteen (19) percent of small employers say television is a very important source for business information (Q#2a). That is about three times the number who regularly watches industry-specific programming. In addition, 45 percent more small employers consider television an important source for business information. All small employers – not just those regularly watching television – assess it as an important source for business information by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin.
Twenty (20) percent of small employers read magazines and/or newsletters daily (Q#3). Another 42 percent report reading them a few times a week. As a result, 62 percent are regular readers. Yet, 30 percent rarely read magazines and newsletters and 7 percent never read them.
Small employers rarely read national business or news magazines. Yet, they are more likely to read national news magazines than national business magazines.
Of the 62 percent who routinely read national magazines, the most frequently read is Time magazine. Seven percent of regular magazine readers, that is, those who read magazines every day or a few times a week, claim to read every issue of Time and another 4 percent of regular readers claim to read most issues (Q#3cH). That translates into about 7 percent of all small employers who regularly read the magazine. Newsweek is the second most frequently read national news or business magazine among small-business people. Ten (10) percent of regular magazine readers or 6 percent of the population report reading at least most issues of Newsweek (Q#3cE). U.S. News & World Report is the third most popular news magazine with 7 percent of regular small-employer readers or 4 percent of the population claiming to read at least most issues (Q#3cB).
The national news magazines assessed above appear weekly. Only BusinessWeek of the business magazines evaluated here has the same publication schedule; the remainder appear monthly. Just 2 percent of regular small employer magazine readers say they read every issue of BusinessWeek and another 6 percent read most issues (Q#3cG). Monthly business magazines, which require less attention compared to weekly journals, engage small employers even less. Nine percent of regular magazine readers report that they read most or all issues of Fortune Small Business (Q#3cF). Six percent say the same about Entrepreneur (Q#3cC) and INC. trails with just 3 percent (Q#3cA). These figures must be reduced by about one-third (more accurately 3/8’s) to assess readership among the population as a whole.
The most well-known newsletter is the Kiplinger letter. Still, only five percent of regular readers say that they read at least most issues of the newsletter (Q#3cD).
The anemic numbers of national readership pale in comparison to readership of industry- focused and local magazines. For example, 39 percent of regular readers claim that they routinely read a commercial magazine that focuses on their industry and another 17 percent read one often (Q#3dD). Those numbers translate into 35 percent of the small employer population who read this type of magazine at least often.
A similar type of publication is the trade association magazine. Twenty (20) percent of regular small employer readers read a national or state trade association magazine regularly and another 11 percent read one often (Q#3dA). That means one in five small employers read at last one such magazine often or more frequently.
Local or neighborhood business organizations also have publications. One in four (25%) regular readers of business publications or 15 to 16 percent of all small employers read this type of printed material at least often (Q#3dB). Combining the publications of local and neighborhood groups and national and state trade associations, it is clear that business organizations generate a large share of the printed material that small-business owners read.
Larger cities often have a local or area business magazine. Nineteen (19) percent of small employers read them at least often (Q#3dE). Add readership of local or area business magazines to publications of local or neighborhood business organizations, eliminate the overlap in readership, and 31 percent read locally-oriented publications regularly.
Finally, about 15 percent of small employers who are regular readers of magazines and newsletters often read an investment newsletter (Q#3dC).
Magazines and newsletters are a far more important source for business news than they are of current events or public affairs. Twenty-two (22) percent of regular magazine or newsletter readers think magazines and newsletters are a very important source for business information (Q#3a). Another 49 percent think they are an important source. Thus, 71 percent of regular readers or 44 percent of all small-business owners consider magazines and newsletters to be an important source of business information. Their evaluation is driven by industry and area-specific publications. These publications are more important to small-business owners because they are more focused. They typically have localized markets and industry-specific information is limited – neither of which appears frequently in national magazines.
In contrast, 18 percent say that magazines and newsletters are a very important source for information for current events and public affairs and another 40 percent think they are important (Q#3b). Translated to the population of small employers, 36 percent consider magazines and newsletters to be a very important or important source of public affairs information.
Forty-nine (49) percent of small-business owners read a newspaper every day (Q#4) and another 23 percent read one a few times a week. Thus, 72 percent can be termed regular newspaper readers. Just 28 percent read a newspaper rarely or never.
Local newspapers are important to small employers, but national newspapers are not. Of those who read newspapers regularly, 59 percent read a daily newspaper every day (Q#4d). Another 24 percent read one a few times a week. Thus, 60 percent of all small employers often read a daily non-national newspaper. In contrast, just 13 percent of regular newspaper readers read a national newspaper, such as USA Today or the Wall Street Journal, every day (Q#4c). Another 14 percent read one a few times a week. Those numbers translate into 19 percent of the small employer population.
Smaller cities and towns – even neighborhoods and suburbs – commonly have local newspapers that publish weekly or biweekly. Small employers read weeklies or bi-weeklies more often than national dailies, but less often than non-national dailies. Twenty-five (25) percent of regular newspaper readers say they read on a regular basis newspapers that circulate less than daily (Q#4e). Twelve (12) percent read them often. Hence, about 27 percent of all small employers read such newspapers often or more frequently.
When specifically asked which type of newspaper is most important, 64 percent respond that non-national dailies are most important (Q#4f). Twenty-two (22) percent say national dailies are and 13 percent identify weeklies or bi-weeklies.
The most important section of the small employer’s favorite newspaper is local news. Twenty-six (26) percent favor it to all else (Q#4g). Eighteen (18) percent cite national and/or international news as their preferred section, followed by the business section at 16 percent and the sports section at 10 percent. However, 13 percent cite a combination of subject matter and another 11 percent say the entire paper is important to them.
Small-business people consider newspapers to be more valuable as an information source than magazines and newspapers. Thirty-four (34) percent of regular, small-employer newspaper readers think newspapers are a very important source of business news and information (Q#4a). Another 41 percent think they are important. That means that more than half (54%) of all small employers regard newspapers as an important or very important source of business information.
Meanwhile, 37 percent consider newspapers to be a very important source of news and information on current events and public affairs while 45 percent consider them important (Q#4b). Those numbers translate into 59 percent of all small employers who think newspapers are an important or very important source for information about current events and public affairs.
The Internet is not traditional mass media. Still, all of the major media sources have an Internet Web site where they post the latest news and developments. Moreover, the public, including small-business owners, frequent these sites to remain current. The advantage of the Web sites, of course, is that they are as immediate as the electronic media and can carry both film clips and text.
Forty-six (46) percent of small employers use the Internet every day for news and information (Q#5). Another 20 percent use it for that purpose a few times a week. This translates into 66 percent who are regular users. Still, 19 percent claim that they rarely use the Internet for news and information and another 15 percent claim that they never use it. Curiously, the Internet has among the lowest percentage of regular users. But, as will be reported, the Internet has the greatest percentage of small-business employers who consider it their most important information source.
Small employers are most likely to check the Internet every day for business news or information on public affairs. Fifty-one (51) percent maintain that they do (Q#5cE). Another 33 percent check it a few times a week. Thus, 57 percent of all small employers use the Internet frequently to obtain business information. Just 17 percent of regular users do not use the Internet for all intents and purposes as a news source. But even those who regularly obtain news from the Internet are not likely to visit blogs. Just 6 percent maintain that they visit blogs daily and another 10 percent do so a few times a week (Q#5d). Forty-eight (48) percent of regular users never read a blog.
The most frequent business function of the Internet for small employers is to search for products or services they might wish to purchase. Such searches could be conducted for personal as well as business reasons and are likely to be some combination of the two. Still, 24 percent use the Internet every day as customers, looking for products or services to buy (Q#5cB). Another 45 percent search a few times a week. This translates into about 43 percent of the small business population who routinely search for products and services on the Internet.
Small employers also use the Internet to search for potential customers and/or markets. Twenty-four (24) percent of regular users claim to employ the Internet for this purpose daily (Q#5cD). Twenty-five (25) percent do so a few times a week. This represents 30 percent of all small employers. The difference between the frequency of regular Internet use as customer and vendor could easily be the personal dimension alluded to previously.
A smaller number employ the Internet to investigate contracts on which they might wish to bid. The Internet has been a boon for those interested in bidding on contracts. At least superficially, the Internet opens the process and makes it easier for small-business people to discover the existence of proposal requests and their requirements. Thirteen (13) percent of regular users exploit the Internet every day to investigate bid possibilities and another 13 percent exploit it a few times a week for this purpose (Q#5cC). The numbers represent about 16 percent of all small businesses.
The Internet has not caught on yet as a regular source of information for government rules and requirements. Forty-eight (48) percent of small employers who regularly use the Internet rarely use it to check for information about such regulations and another 20 percent never do (Q#5cF). Still, nearly one-third (31%) or 19 percent of the population regularly use the facility, making the Internet a useful vehicle for government to reach small-business people. Despite such assistance, government cannot depend on the Internet given its need to reach a much greater share of the population.
Fifty-three (53) percent of small employers using the Internet for news and information report that it is a very important source for business information (Q#5a). Another 34 percent say that the Internet is an important source. Fifty-seven (57) percent of the small-business owner population, therefore, think the Internet is an important or very important source for business news and information. Small employers attribute nearly as much importance to the Internet as a source of information for current events and public affairs as they do a source of business news and information. Forty-eight (48) percent think the Internet is a very important source for news and information on current events and public affairs while another 32 percent think it is important (Q#5b). The total across all small-business people is 53 percent.
Twenty-six (26) percent of small employers consider the Internet the most important source for business information among the five mass media types evaluated (Q#6). Its importance is particularly prominent among the very largest (employing 20 or more people) where 37 percent term the Internet the single most important source for business news and information. Twenty-one (21) percent think the most important source for business information is newspapers. Another 18 percent identify television as the most important source followed by magazines and newsletters (13%) and radio (12%).
Information gleaned from the media is essentially public information. Competitive advantage is more likely to accrue from private information sources. Therefore, this begs the question: is a better source of information networking or one’s favorite media source? Fifty-two (52) percent think that their favorite media source offers a better source for business news and information than networking (Q#6a), while 43 percent choose networking.
Television, the Internet and newspapers virtually share the top position as the most important source for news and information on current events and public affairs. Twenty- seven (27) percent identify television, 25 percent the Internet, and 24 percent newspapers (Q#7). Another 14 percent think radio is most important and 4 percent cited magazines and newsletters.
Mass media is considerably more important to small-business owners as a source for civic information than networking. Eighty-two (82) percent of small employers say the best source for information on current events and/or public affairs is their favorite media outlet (Q#7a). Just 16 percent think they get better information on these matters by networking.
While the Internet appears to be emerging as a small employer’s single most important source of both business information and information concerning current events and public affairs, each of the five media forms explored here has a substantial following. This is particularly true for business information. The largest number identifying a media source as the most important for business information is 26 percent (Internet) and the smallest is 12 percent (radio). It is likely that as more small-business owners use and become more comfortable with using the Internet, the proportion naming it as their most important business source will grow. The immediate question is: will that growth occur at the expense of other media forms, and if so, which? The follow-up question is: will Internet growth increase proportionate to networking, and if so, why?
The same theme generally holds true for information on current events and public affairs. Each media form has a substantial number of partisans willing to identify it as their most important source for this type of information. The exception is magazines and newsletters. Only 4 percent cite them as their most important source for information on current events and public affairs. In fact, if there is a traditional media source that appears to becoming irrelevant to small-business owners, it is the national news (business news) magazine.
In a sense, identifying any one media source as the “most important” is misleading. It leaves the impression that small-business people use one source to the virtual exclusion of others, which simply is not true. They use all major media sources to obtain both business information and information on current events and public affairs. For example, two-thirds listen to the radio every day; almost that many watch television every day and half read a newspaper every day. Moreover, in every case a majority of those who use a source claim that it is an important or very important source for business news and current affairs.
Small employers identify different sources – and their value – with different types of information. For example, a substantially larger number of regular radio listeners cite radio as an important or very important source for information on current events and public affairs than for information on business. Regular television viewers express similar opinions. However, those who regularly read magazines offer a totally different perspective. They find magazines and newsletters much more likely to offer valuable business information, primarily due to industry-specific publications, than information on current events and public affairs. To an unknown extent, therefore, media form (source) is associated with media content.
Small-business owners are greatly attracted to local information. This point is best illustrated by the appeal of local magazines, bulletins and newsletters in contrast to national business magazines. The same point can be made by noting that their favorite television information programming and newspaper section is local news. As media outlets increasingly consolidate to reduce costs, the ability to produce local news becomes more difficult. Similarly, the Internet struggles with local presence despite the excessive amounts of personal (the most local) information available in cyberspace. Thus, the issue becomes paying the cost to satisfy the thirst for local news. How is that going to work?