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A survey into the newspaper reading habits of the British has some rare good news for newspapers - and a warning for their net strategies.

The good news for media groups is that online readers show a strong loyalty to their favourite paper, with two thirds of Mail readers also buying a print copy, for example.

However, the Lemming-like rush to make all the print content available online has resulted in a class of freeloaders who never buy the printed version of the newspaper. The Guardian, which prides itself on the completeness of its online coverage - it doesn't hold anything back - has attracted the most freeloaders: 20 per cent of Guardian Online readers don't buy the paper (they don't buy anyone else's paper, either).

That's hardly surprising. When everything is online, they don't have to, and readers can save themselves over £5 a week.

"Perhaps the broadsheets are victims of their own online success, with their web readers getting all the news and comment they need online," notes David Day, CEO of Lightspeed Europe.

This leaves newspaper companies in a pickle. If they make their online version complete and attractive, they're discouraging readers from buying the much more lucrative print product. If they ignore the internet, they risk falling behind with the small but rapidly growing internet advertising business. Few have the loyalty that the Wall Street Journal commands, which has charged for almost everything from day one. So the prudent course would be to do as the New York Times has done - and hold some material back for subscribers.

The report also suggests that tabloid print papers don't translate well to online formats - or else the audience isn't interested.

Guardian readers and Times readers top the freeloader list, with the other "quality" papers not far behind. Fourteen per cent of Mirror and The Sun readers, and only 11 per cent of Daily Express readers, don't buy a print newspaper.

Lightspeed Research contacted 55,000 people in the UK in May. ®

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