Investors may be regarded as society's greedy knaves, obsessed with price-to-earnings ratios and minting a Wall Street bundle. But they may know more about Pakistani politics or the Bolshoi Ballet than you think.
According to a national study released Monday, it turns out they're voracious Web news junkies -- and not just to satisfy a financial fix. Compared to the general public, "active traders" -- anyone who's bought or sold stock within the last six months -- are more likely to scour the Net for international news, politics, science, sports and art stories. Making money may be their primary passion, but they're a driving force behind the Web news boom.
"These are information-hungry Americans who realize the importance of being generally well-informed," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, an independent research group that conducted the biannual survey of the national news audience. "People who are trading have a need to know that's greater than ordinary news consumers. And they're using technology to its fullest."
Overall, the telephone survey of some 3,100 adults found that despite Americans' growing apathy toward news, the Internet continues to attract key segments of the nation's new audience. A third of the public now goes online for news at least once a week -- up from only a fifth two years ago. Fifteen percent get daily reports from the Web, almost three times more than in 1998.
But for so-called active traders -- 15 percent of the American population -- the Web has become particularly vital: 45 percent say it's their primary source for stock quotes and investment advice. It's hardly surprising that this group sees the Net as an important financial resource, since more than eight in 10 fetch stock market updates at least once a week.
But here's what's really interesting: Their passion for making money has made them among the most savvy consumers in the new economy.
For one thing, their drive for Wall Street riches has led them to stock up the latest tech gadgets. (More than 80 percent own a home computer; 70 percent have a cell phone and nearly a third carry around a pager -- all higher than the general public, according to the study.)
And these financially savvy sorts are not as one-dimensional as many imagine. They tune into nightly network news more than the general public (37 percent, compared to 30 percent). Nearly six in 10 regularly watch their local news program, slightly higher than the general public. They also read newspapers more than average citizens (73 percent compared to 62 percent). Nearly a third say they follow news on science and technology, almost double the rate of the general public. They also have a higher interest in international affairs, Washington politics, local government, culture and the arts. The only subjects that don't grab them more than the average American: crime, religion and health.
Kohut said such results surprised him, especially the degree to which traders use the Net for all types of information. This was the first time the Washington-based group specifically asked questions isolating investors. "We delved into it this time because the stock market and the financial world is becoming more of a popular pursuit, and it's not just limited to the denizens on Wall Street," Kohut says.
So what's likely to result from a study like this? More financially oriented Web sites? More advertising to reach investors, say, on a general news site?
Don't count on it, says Kenneth Clemmer, an analyst at Forrester Research. "I'm pretty skeptical that there are lots of opportunities for new entrants to the Web. If you're not already established, you'd have a hard time getting people to come."
He also doesn't believe that financial advertisers will necessarily reach their core consumers at sports or arts sites -- at least not anytime soon. "That doesn't work on the Web," he says. "Young, affluent males who are at ESPN.com aren't in finance mode. It's like putting a lemonade stand next to the freeway."