Monday, October 1, 2012

Pew study on news habits of mobile readers show the growth of a multi-platform news consumer; lower priced tablets lure new readers to platform

Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) has released a new study that looks at the reading habits of mobile and tablet news consumers. The study involved 9,513 adults – of those adults, 2,013 owned a tablet (21.2 percent) and 3,947 owned a smartphone (41.5 percent).*

The PEJ study shows a huge increase in the market share of Android tablets, including the Kindle Fire, but also found that iPad owners are still using their tablets for more things than Android owners, while Android tablets are found to be used more for using social networks and to follow the news.

The authors of the new study claim that two types of news consumers are emerging on tablets:
Nearly a fifth of mobile news users, 19%, have paid for a digital news subscription of some kind in the last year, and a third of tablet news users with digital subscriptions have added new subscriptions since they acquired the device. But even more mobile news users, 31%, have print-only subscriptions, and three quarters of these have no plans to give them up. These print subscribers also prefer their app-based news to be more like a traditional reading experience rather than to have high-tech features. For the news organizations, this brings both the potential for new audiences as well as the challenge of accommodating the differing styles and approaches of these distinct audiences.
Already some media observers are interpreting the study to say that tablet owners are choosing the browser on tablets over native apps.

"More and more, tablet computer users are choosing browsers over apps for their digital news delivery, says Pew’s report," according to Jeff Bercovici of Forbes.

The problem with this interpretation is that it fails to account for the growth of tablets overall, and repeats the often mistaken view that apps were ever seen as preferable to browsers (accept by some media observers).
The fact is that the web has been the preferred way most consumers get the news for a while, and that tablet apps, especially because they often mimic print, have been seen by readers as more a leisure-time reading activity. In other words, if the browser on a computer is preferred to all other platforms, why would this be different on a tablet or smartphone?

The problem may lie in the fact that many media observers throw all news products into the same bin, rather than breaking out daily news from analytical news – in other words, the news found on most newspaper web home pages from that found in a news magazine. Studies have consistently found that breaking news is a web product while eReaders and print are preferred for longer form content.

The PEJ study has encouraging news for publishers concerning digital subscribers: the study found that 33 percent of digital news subscribers were new since getting a tablet, while 27 percent were replacing print. Even those who are replacing print with digital may be good for publishers because of production cost considerations.

News consumption, according to the study, ranks number two behind email as the most common activity of tablet owners, while it ranks behind both email and social networking on smartphones. 64 percent of those surveyed, who own a tablet, said they consumer news on their tablets, but only 37 percent said they did so on a daily basis. This leads me to conclude that many tablet owners are still using their tablets mostly during off hours. I would be curious to know if there is a difference, as I'd suspect, between iPad owners and Android owners here. After all, if many Android tablet owners are replacing their older eReaders with tablets, they would be prone to using their tablets for media consumption less often than iPad owners.
I think it continues to be important to not lump all smartphone and all tablet owners into the same basket. Many consumers are replacing their feature cell phones with smartphones while continuing to use those devices as they had previously. For these consumers, the ability to consumer news, read periodicals remains a very minor activity. The same may hold true for many of the new tablet owners who are replacing their eBook reading devices for tablets that offer more features.

Because of this, publishers not only need to have a multiplatform digital strategy, but one that accounts for different reading patterns, as well.

* Comscore recently reported that it found that smartphone penetration in the U.S. had reached 47 percent, so this Pew study is showing lower numbers than previous studies.