Thursday, March 29, 2012

Website owners see their mobile readership numbers grow, changing the way they think about content and target audience; Chrome use grows at the expense of IE

Once or twice a year Josh Marshall gets a bit techie and posts an article about readership trends on his site Talking Points Memo. While Marshall usually cautions his readers that the short post is non-political and might not be of interest to them, I love these posts because they are little tidbits of research that usually confirm what I have heard from other new media websites, or see right here at TNM.

Marshall's post, under the title of The Ascent of Mobile looks at the growing number of readers he is seeing accessing his website using a mobile device. While Marshall says the percentage of users remains far lower than that seen from readers using a PC, the numbers are growing steadily – now reaching 20 percent of all readers.
I hope Marshall won't mind me grabbing his readership chart, seen at right. Here Marshall points out that iPhone, iPad and Android readership numbers continue to climb, while those of Blackberry and Windows Phone currently barely register.

"What continues to surprise me is that pace of growth of iPhone usage hasn’t slackened at all," Marshall writes. "If anything it seems to be accelerating."

Others are reporting the same. I wonder, however, if TPM's international readership is also growing. If so, the two trends may be related: as Apple's share of the US mobile market is being eaten into by Android, its share elsewhere appears to be growing.

As I usually have to point out, it is interesting to see Android as one number. The reason for this is that tracking Android tablets as distinct from smartphones is either impossible or a waste of time. I'd be curious to know what Marshall is seeing in the way of readership growth from Android tablet users – this site continues to see the Android tablet user as a tiny minority compared to iPad readers.

One thing to keep in mind is that Talking Points Memo does not have any mobile apps (or a tablet edition). TPM does have a mobile website, but those readers are represented here. Because of this, TPM's share of mobile appears higher than it would if these readers were using an app – in that case, Marshall would be seeing the percentage of readers accessing his RSS feeds exploding.

Further, if I were consulting Marshall I would caution him about equating all this new traffic to "mobile" as tablet use is getting mainstreamed, so to speak. Many users, especially young users, are reading online with their tablets in much the same way they did their PC. This behavior is leas a reflection of reading habits as a reflection of device migration.

Marshall may be seeing this himself when he writes about device migration: "My own sense is that iPhone or other handset devices will never be the primary way people will want to read news. It’s just too small — totally functional and extremely useful but not what you’d probably gravitate towards if you were at home and had a desktop or tablet to use. But I can easily imagine tablets becoming the preferred way to reading news."

Here Marshall is being a bit old fashioned. The issue isn't that mobile won't be a preferred way to read TPM, but instead that TMP should be thinking about what it should be delivering to mobile. The new NYT and WaPo mobile apps centered on their elections coverage are good examples of this. Websites often think they are "new media" because they are online, but are often as traditional as the old print media world. To break out of this, websites need to understand that their content is what is of value, and their websites but one possible product. Only delivering the same content to mobile and tablets is the online equivalent of creating a replica edition from a print product.

(This is definitely one of those "do as I say not as I do" situations. TNM, too, should be creating new tablet and mobile product lines – but, as many of you know, my commitment to continuing with a B2B website for media professionals has wavered several times over the past two years.)

As far as Talking New Media is concerned, tracking this site's traffic got more complicated the minute the iPhone app launched. As a B2B website, we're talking traffic numbers that are a fraction of Marshall's. But the trends look very much the same. The RSS feeds are getting more traffic via the mobile app, and the percentage of users accessing the site through an iPad is exploding. What I am not seeing is any real spike in Android tablet users, but this may be caused by Android tablets registering strictly as mobile devices (though to be honest, I've been looking for users there but not seeing a spike).

One trend that continues is the growth in the use of Google's Chrome browser. I personally use Chrome while working on TNM because of its built-in translation service. I then use Safari for personal use, as well as on my iPhone and iPad, of course. (The Kindle Fire is starting to collect dust, but does occasionally get used for web browsing.)

Here is the breakout for the past month:

Browser Percent
Chrome 29.90%
Firefox 27.12%
Safari 25.40%
Internet Explorer 14.41%
The decline in the use of IE continues and is accelerating. Meanwhile, because Safari is the default browser on iOS devices, its growth continues. But Chrome has quickly reached parity with Firefox as the preferred browser of PC users.