Abstract - The Information Society 24(1)

Search engines as substitutes for traditional information sources? An investigation of media choice

Natalie Kink and Thomas Hess

We develop a two-phased survey design—based on the uses and gratifications approach and the theory of planned behavior—to analyse competitive relations between search engines and traditional information sources. We apply the survey design in a large-scale empirical study with Internet 14-66 year old users (mean age 32) to find out whether complementary or substitutional dependencies predominate between search engines and three traditional information sources—paper-based encyclopaedias and yellow pages and telephone-based directory assistance. We find that search engines, compared to the traditional alternatives, are gratifying a wider spread of users’ needs. Whereas yellow pages and directory assistance are potentially substitutable, encyclopaedias serve those needs that search engines cannot (yet) fulfil. The traditional media companies face increased competition, but do not necessarily have to be in an inferior competitive position.


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