Nic Newman is a former head of digital products for BBC Journalism and editor of a new Reuters Institute Digital Report – a new multicountry study of the transition to digital. In this exclusive article for TheMediaBriefing, he argues that new devices are showing promising signs in terms of revenue generation.
We’ve known for some time that smartphones and tablets are popular but now we have hard evidence about how extensively they are being used to create, consume and distribute news.
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has commissioned a new survey of digital news use in the UK, US, Germany, France and Denmark and one of the stand-out findings is the way in which new devices are changing the way people think about news. The survey suggests that tablet users in particular consume more news, prefer the experience and are more willing to pay for the privilege.
Whilst computers still dominate online usage across countries, mobile use now stands at around 25 percent in most of our surveyed countries and peaks in Denmark at 32 percent. Tablets still account for a relatively small percentage of consumption but the sector is set to grow quickly.
Our detailed data on tablets and smartphones are only available for the UK, but show that 10 percent of the 47 percent who don’t already have smartphones are thinking of buying one – as are a staggering 19 percent of the 85 percent that don’t already own a tablet.
But it But it not just the headline numbers, digging into the figures we can also see significant generational differences in terms of the MAIN way that people access online news. 27 percent of 25-34 and 22 percent of 16-24 now say the mobile phone is their MAIN source of online news whereas smartphones have made little impact with older people. Tablets, partly because of their price point, tend to attract a more wealthy and older demographic though it is still early days.
In general our UK data supports recent findings from the PEW Research Center in the US which suggests that these devices are adding to the news experience – rather than replacing other ways of access. The vast majority of mobile users in our survey use computers to access the news and also use the news more often throughout the day. The same is true of tablet owners who typically use a rich range of ways of accessing the news.
Our survey shows the tablet emerging as a particularly important device for news in the UK:
• 58% of tablet users access news from the device every week (68 percent in the last month).
• Tablet owners access a larger number of news sources than other online users.
• More than 40 percent of tablet users say the device provides a better experience for news than a traditional computer.
• Tablet owners are significantly more likely to pay for news online today and in the future.
Newspaper brands staging a comeback on tablet?
Looking at the relative position of different traditional and non-traditional news brands across devices, the position of ‘newspapers’ seems to have been strengthened by the emergence of the tablet. Five of the top news brands on a tablet in the UK come from newspaper groups, compared with just two on the open web and several of these like the Guardian and The Times have achieved this despite charging for content.
The success of the app stores particularly with Apple and Android users has encouraged the rebundling of news into semi-closed environments – accessed by a simple touch on a branded icon. Although standard web browsers are used extensively on tablets, our survey shows that news apps are also popular and are used more heavily by those for whom these devices are the primary access point.
Not only are these news apps popular, they are increasingly appearing in a world where bundled content can be easily paid for. The eco-systems developed by Apple and Amazon in particular facilitate one-click purchases that reduce much of the friction associated with news payment.
These developments are not going to reverse the trends towards real-time always-on news, but they may offer some hope to traditional newspaper groups struggling with new competition and falling profit margins. On the other hand, we should remain cautious in interpreting these figures at this stage. It is still very early days for tablets, which are largely in the hands of richer, and better educated groups who are likely to be more prepared to pay so it will be interesting to track this developing story in the years to come
The Reuters Institute Digital Report is the first of a planned series of surveys into news usage, which the Institute is planning over the next few years. Polling was conducted online in five countries during April 2012. Sample sizes were 2000+ in the UK and around 1000 in the four other countries. People who said they were not interested in news were excluded from the survey. More details here.