The good news & bad news about news consumption on tablets

October 26, 2011

There is some heartening data and some other data that should strike fear in the hearts of publishing executives about how people consume news on tablet devices, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center’s Project in Excellence in Journalism and the Economist Group.

Let’s get to the rosy stuff first. The survey polled about 1,200 tablet users and 900 people  who use them to read the news. It turns out that consuming news — defined as skimming headlines to hunkering down and reading long-form articles —  is one of the most popular tablet activities (at 53%) nearly edging out sending emails (at 54%) but definitely whopping social media activity (39%), gaming (17%), reading books (17%) and watching videos (13%).

But the apps aren’t pulling in the most readers. Interestingly, while two-thirds of those surveyed have news apps, about 40% of those polled said they get their news through web browsers compared to only 21% who get their news through apps.  For newspapers this piece of information should be a wake up call to keep pricing consistent.  (Magazines would fit in this category though most don’t have a decent websites.)

If a publisher is going to charge for an application — and why not? — they should also have some sort of pay strategy in place for the website. Otherwise people are going to circumvent the app and just go straight to the browser for free news. Thus the publication once again misses another potential revenue opportunity.

Now for the bad news. The study found that “revenue potential for news on the tablet may be limited.” Here’s why: Just 14 percent of tablet news users have paid to access the news. Those who have news apps said that being free or low cost was a major factor in their decision to download the app in the first place.

It could simply be that not enough news organization are  charging for apps in the first place — once again getting people who are using these new devices in the mindset that news should be free.

Read the full study here.


No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see