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Dec. 11, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Mobile & Apps
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Young-adult readers may have abandoned print, but they’ll take news in their pockets

A new study from Pew also finds that men, the college-educated, and those with higher incomes are more likely to engage with news on smartphones and tablets.

Since the rise of the Internet, print media — most notably newspapers — have faced a big problem with younger readers. But according to a new study released today by the Pew Research Center and The Economist Group, when you look specifically at the devices they love — the smartphones in their pockets — young adults rival or even surpass their parents and grandparents as news consumers.

According to the report from Pew’s Project in Excellence in Journalism, 37 percent of smartphone owners between the ages of 18 and 29 get news on their devices daily, along with 40 percent of smartphone owners aged 30 to 49. Those are slightly higher than the equivalent rates for 50-64 (31 percent) and 65-plus (25 percent). Among tablet owners, news consumption numbers were broadly similar across age groups, with 50- to 64-year-olds being the peak news consumers.

There’s more good news for media companies hoping to reach younger readers: They are more likely to share the news they read on mobile devices and to engage with ads on smartphones and tablets. For ads in particular, readers 18-29 were twice as likely to “at least sometimes” touch an ad on a tablet than people 30-49.

Use of mobile devices has been on the rise for some time, as has growing use of phones and tablets as the main method of going online. Pew’s new findings again reinforce the importance of mobile to the future of journalism, but it also points to new opportunities for media companies.

The data comes from a survey of 9,513 adults, 4,638 of whom owned a mobile device, between June and August of this year.

Pew found many positive signs when it comes to reading on mobile devices: Over a third of the survey respondents said they got news daily on tablet or smartphone. A quarter of 18-29 year-olds tablet owners surveyed said they read ebooks on them daily, higher than people in any other age group. Almost one third of users under 50 said they “sometimes” read archived magazine articles on their tablet. Overall, Pew found young men were the most active news consumers on tablets and smartphones, reading in-depth articles, watching video, and checking news back with the news multiple times during the day.

One thing the report makes clear is paying for news remains a tough sell for many readers. As more newspapers incorporate digital subscription plans, readers are facing a number of options for paying for news:

Our survey found that even among mobile news users, print-only subscriptions outweigh digital. But, 19% of these mobile news users have paid for some form of digital subscription — 14% bundled with print and 9% digital only.

As for subscriptions, the survey reinforces some things we already know: Older people are more likely to pay for news. According to Pew, people over 50 were almost twice as likely as those under 50 to have a print-only subscription. The 50-plus crowd were also more likely to have a print/digital combo: 20 percent of those surveyed said they have bundled subscriptions, compared to only 12 percent of people under 50. A minor bright spot? People under 50 were more likely to go digital only — but only 9 percent said they had digital subscriptions, compared to 8 percent of those over 50.

A sign that may not bode well for the idea of young people’s habits changing in a pro-news direction:

The survey also asked whether the tablet is mostly replacing news that consumers would have gotten elsewhere or is adding to the overall amount of news consumed. Again, one might expect the younger generation, whose news habits are still developing, to be adding to its news consumption more so than older generations. Actually, the reverse is true. Fully 61% of those 65 and older say the news they get on their tablet is adding to their news consumption compared with less than 45% for all other age groups.

There was an area of agreement across all age groups in the report on the reading experience and design of tablet apps. The survey found that both people over 40 and under 40 preferred a “print-like” experience rather than a more interactive layout. (Interesting data in the final week of The Daily’s existence.)

Similar to previous surveys from Pew, readers said they preferred reading on mobile browsers to native apps. But there was good news for fans of native apps as well.

Roughly 60% of tablet news users and smartphone news users mostly use the browser for news while about a quarter mostly use apps (the rest use a mix). But, the survey also found that app users tend to be more active mobile news consumers, carrying special appeal for news organizations.

Finally, as in other surveys, Pew found that iPad owners engaged with their devices at a significantly higher rate than owners of Android tablets did. Those with iPads were more likely to use their devices multiple times per day (54 percent to 33 percent for Android) and to use them to consume news daily (48 percent vs. 35 percent).

Image from Steve Rhodes used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Dec. 11, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
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