One of the largest studies of digital news habits reveals the extent and speed of the smartphone and tablet revolution. Report author Nic Newman from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism summarises the key data and explores the industry implications:

News is becoming more real-time, more social and more mobile. At the centre of these historic changes are new personal devices – the smartphone and the tablet – that give more control to consumers but also offer some hope to publishers that digital news can be profitable in the future. 

These are just some of the conclusions from the 2013 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, based on an extensive online survey of 11,000 consumers in nine countries including the UK, US, Japan and a number of key European countries. [1] 

Here’s a video summarising some of the report’s findings:

Accelerating pace of change

Across all our countries we find that almost a third (29 percent) of our online sample use a smartphone at least once a week for news and that figure rises to over 40 percent for those aged under 45.

Even more striking, a third of 25-34 year olds (30 percent) say the smartphone is their MAIN or most important way of accessing digital news. As the log files of countless new organisations will testify these figures are borne out every day by the growth in both the amount and frequency of access from these devices. 

Use of the tablet for news is also growing at a rapid pace – indeed access has doubled in most of the countries we surveyed in 2012 in just 10 months. In the UK that means 16 percent now say they get news via tablet on a weekly basis, compared with 8 percent last time.

And most of these tablet owners are also using news on smartphones and computers. Overall a third of us use two digital devices to access news (35 percent in the UK and 33 percent globally), with 9 percent using three or more devices each week.

Nic Newman - Reuters Digital New Report 2013 - consumption

But we also find that these devices change habits and behaviour. People are accessing more frequently using these devices – and the more devices they have the more frequently they access. 

Nic Newman - Reuters Digital News report 2013 - device usage

In this way smartphones and tablets are encouraging people to consume more news, extending the range of access points. They may also be encouraging more snacking, a more superficial way of engaging with news.  79 percent of smartphone users agree with the statement that they use the mobile to access quick updates; less than one in five (19 percent) agreed that they use the smartphone for in depth news.

In responding to these trends many news brands have started to produce more real time news streams and live pages – and increase the focus with which they update their websites and social media feeds. In terms of brand performance we find that brands that have a reputation for breaking news, like Sky News in the UK, TF1 in France, and CNN in the US, tend to do better on mobile devices (see chart below).

Sky News has 15 percent share on the computer and 25 percent on smartphone in the UK, driven by a strong app offer and promotion from TV. In contrast, old-style web aggregators like Yahoo and MSN – where news services are linked to default browser settings – seem to be losing out in an app-based world – at least in the UK and US.

Nic Newman - Reuters Digital News Report 2013 - news brands

But just because people are accessing news more frequently on smartphones and tablets doesn’t mean they are consuming less news on traditional platforms. Most continue to use traditional media as well. 

Over 80 percent of tablet users, for example, still watch TV news – a built programme or a 24-hour channel – at least once a week and half read a newspaper (49 percent globally and 54percent in the UK). Over 40 percent of tablet and smartphone users still listen to radio news. There isn’t a clear trend to substitution here – though we do see signs of that in the United States where tablet users read significantly fewer newspapers that the average.

Nic Newman - Reuters Institute Digital News 2013 - consumption by device 

One other significant finding relates to the propensity of these devices to encourage payment for news. In the United States, where the market for paid news has been changing quickly and is most mature, we find that people who own both smartphones and tablets are four times more likely to pay for news. The numbers are still relatively small, but 16percent say they have paid for digital news in the last week. 

In some senses, this is not surprising in that we know that smartphone and tablet owners are richer, older, better educated and have a greater interest in news than the general population. Together with our polling company, YouGov, we ran a model where we controlled for those factors and we found that both tablet and smartphone users were still much more likely to pay.

It also appears that the Apple ecosystem in particular (see chart below)– the availability of paid content and the ease of purchase – is encouraging digital purchase. We also find that smartphones in the US are encouraging a greater degree of news sharing when controlling for other variables.

Nic Newman - Reuters Digital News Report 2013 - paying for news

 Interestingly we do not find a statistically significant correlation in the UK when controlling for these factors. This is likely to be because there are so many widely used free news apps and websites in the market and the culture of payment is a little further behind.

Implications for the news industry

We are still at the beginning of a historic shift to mobile that offers for the first time an opportunity to provide more personal and relevant editorial and commercial services.

For big news brands, it’s clearly important to offer mobile services that complement more lean back and reflective media. It is no longer enough to pump out content indiscriminately across platforms; at least some of this content will need to be tailored and designed for a mobile and social audience. Mobile will become the default platform for breaking news, but it also offers opportunities to reach niche audiences with a far greater level of precision than has been possible in the past.

Already we’re seeing a raft of news start-ups experimenting with mobile content and advertising formats – often mixing the two in ways that would horrify traditional media. Buzzfeed and NowThisNews are targeting younger audiences and capitalising on their willingness to participate with and share news. Here in the UK, Trinity Mirror has joined the party, launching a new brand Us Vs Th3m  also focussed on creating content that can be engaged with and shared virally on a mobile. 

Whether all this activity will bring commercial rewards is still an open  question, but as audiences move towards mobile, advertisers will inevitably follow. This is the time to experiment with new content, to start acquiring the skills and experience to compete in this new landscape. Mobile strategies are no longer a nice to have. Smartphones and tablets may not be the entire future of news, but they are going to be a far bigger part of the picture than most still realise.


Nic Newman is author of the Reuters Institute Digital News ReportHe is also a digital strategist and former controller of future media for BBC Journalism.

Nic is chairing our Mobile Media Strategies 2013 conference on 26 September in London – an intensive and in-depth look at mobile and tablet business models for publishers. Nic is also running a digital product managment training session on 27 September.


[1] Survey conducted by YouGov in Jan/Feb 2013 in UK, US, Japan, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark Germany, and urban Brazil. Based on nationally representative samples of the online population ranging from 1000-2078. Those who said they didn’t use news at all in the last month were excluded. All exclusions ranged from 2-9percent depending on the country.