Real vs. Imagined: Reconsidering @USAToday vs. @WSJ

Earlier today, I tweeted a photo, showing how the pile of newspapers at a Hyatt hotel indicated more guests were grabbing USA Today.

It would be easy to simply say, "well, that shows that USA Today is more popular than the Wall Street Journal," and extrapolate from there to think the former is in better shape. What else would I consider, though, to reach a more realistic inference? First of all, who says that guests of the Hyatt Hotel in Medford, MA (where I was on a visit to the Boston area), are the types of people who read The Wall Street Journal or who want to? Who says the WSJ is even targeted to the same profile of reader?

Or, perhaps, WSJ is farther ahead in adoption of its app. I already subscribe to the Journal, for example, and therefore can consume the paper on my digital devices without having to pick up a "paper." Last night, I looked at USA Today on their nifty HTML5-optimized site, on my iPad. So, no paper for me -- though I did grab one to read by the pool and another to help with a little cleanup (please don't make me explain).

Also, simple numbers of readers don't always tell the story. Even if WSJ has less mass appeal, that doesn't mean they're doing worse. I haven't looked into real ad rates for WSJ in a couple of years, but I would guess they are, on a per-unit average throughout the paper and website, higher than those at USA Today. Overall revenue may be higher even if there is a smaller number of readers. Said another way, a smaller number of more highly valued users can mean better business.

Finally, most obviously, no matter how many hotels I personally see this happen at in my seemingly random travels, it's far from a random sample. We can't really draw inferences about the overall health or desirability of a newspaper by looking at piles of them on the front desk of a hotel Dorian happens to visit.

So, good Tweet, but not far from foregone conclusion.