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A conversation with David Rose, little magazine veteran and publisher of Lapham’s Quarterly
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Sept. 14, 2010, 11 a.m.

Five important mobile app findings for news orgs

A new report out today gives news organizations reasons to start thinking mobile apps (if they haven’t already). The Pew Internet and American Life Project partnered with Nielsen to survey cellphone users on their app habits, finding that about 43 percent of cellphone users have an app on their device, though only about 29 percent actually use them. With smartphone market share expected to accelerate its rapid growth, app usage is also sure to increase. Here are five data points from the Pew-Nielsen report that stood out to me as noteworthy for news organizations:

Young people like apps

Struggling to get those young consumers? They’re the single most app-friendly bunch. About 47 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they’ve downloaded an app, compared to 39 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and just 14 percent of 50-plus. That’s important, particularly when paired with a previous Pew finding that showed that young people have taken to giving mobile donations. That’s a good mix for nonprofit news organizations. (Though even with Apple’s newly explained rules, in-app donations aren’t allowed on the iPhone.)

People who use apps consume news online

Apps could be a good way to hang onto your audience, letting them follow you onto another platform. The report surveyed app users about their online activities, revealing that they are more likely to be online news consumers than are non-app users: 90 percent of app users consume news online, compared to 75 percent of non-app users. Also, they are more likely to visit a video sharing site, 80 percent versus 66 percent.

News apps do relatively well

As part of the study, Pew used Nielsen numbers that asked active app users (those who had downloaded at least one app in the previous 30 days) what apps they’ve used in the past month. Sure, news apps aren’t at the same level as puzzles and strategy games (36 percent), Facebook (42 percent), or Google Maps (35 percent), but look down the list and the news apps start to appear. Nine percent of users said they’d used a CNN app in the past month, 8 percent USA Today, 7 percent New York Times, and 7 percent Fox. Other local apps for food and entertainment pull in similar percentages, perhaps a good indicator for local news organizations. The king of the news/weather category, unsurprisingly: The Weather Channel’s app, used by a whopping 32 percent.

People digest apps in small doses

The study found that most users who use their apps daily do so for less than 30 minutes. Asked for context, 71 percent said they use their apps when they’re alone, 53 percent while waiting for someone or something, and 36 percent while commuting. (Hopefully they’re not driving.) It seems like people want a few moments here and there with their apps, a use case where a good headline or a snappy lede is particularly important.

People will pay

Free apps are still most popular; of Nielsen’s recent downloaders, only 37 percent had downloaded even a single paid app in the previous 30 days. But among paid apps, the majority were $2 or more, belying the common idea that 99 cents is the price point with the best chance for success. The dollar amounts are small — only 23 percent of paid apps cost more than $5. But they’re still greater than zero — the amount many have proven willing to pay for content on the web.

[Editor's note: Originally, we accidentally published this post too early and jumped the gun on an embargo. Our sincere apologies to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, who have since lifted the embargo.]

POSTED     Sept. 14, 2010, 11 a.m.
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