Consuming news on tablets is about as popular as sending and receiving email.
People love their tablets, and they're consuming more news from more sources because of them. That's the good news from a new study by Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and The Economist Group.
Now, the bad news.
While tablet readers are slightly more likely to pay for news subscriptions, a majority won't pay - even though early adopters tend to be more affluent and older, the traditional news audience.
The multi-phase survey of nearly 1,200 tablet users and nearly 900 tablet news users found that consuming news is one of the most popular activities on the tablet, about as popular as sending and receiving email.
Eighteen months after the introduction of the iPad, 11 percent of U.S. adults now own a tablet computer of some kind. About half get news on their tablets every day, and among news readers, three in ten say they're spending more time with the news than they did before they got the tablet. Moreover, 33 percent say they're turning to new sources for news on their tablet, sources they had not turned to on other platforms.
"They spend an average of 90 minutes on their tablets every day. That's a pretty big number," says Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Pew Research Center. He notes that 42 percent are reading the long stories, which is surprising. "Lots of research suggested previously that people were scanning headlines on digital devices. There's something about laptop and desktop that makes reading longer stories harder."
But more news consumption doesn't necessarily lead to more revenue for the news orgs.
Only 14 percent of people who read news on the tablet have paid directly for the content on their tablets. Another 23 percent have a subscription to a print newspaper or magazine that they say includes digital access.
Part of this, according to Rosenstiel, is because people aren't using news organizations' apps the way publishers have hoped. Approximately one third primarily used apps to read news; the majority used a combination of browser and apps.
"Apps have not become the singular gateway into the tablet. The tablet is a convenient computer that also has apps. It's not yet an app-driven device," Rosenstiel says. News junkies may not use apps because they aren't good enough yet, or it could be because there is so much content that's free - and we're accustomed to it being free.
For example, a lot of news apps deliver today's news but don't let people search the archives. Moreover, if someone recommends an article via email, clicking on the link in the email takes you to the browser.
"The whole concept of the app was that you would be essentially inside one news organization's very rich interface. The content would be beautiful, and it would fill the page," Rosenstiel says. "Ads that accompanied that more attractive presentation would also be more attractive, interactive, appealing and powerful. For that to work people have to say, 'These apps are great,' and pay for the paid content part. For the richer advertising experience to work, people need to be in the app."
Ultimately, Rosenstiel thinks, news apps may pay off in better ad targeting. For example, Apple aggregates all the customer behavior data from all apps used on the iPad. "That will be the fairy dust that lets them target ads in the future," he says.
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
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