Are Tablets the Future for Newspapers?

Declining newspaper readership is hardly a surprise to most people. According to the Pew Research Center, only 29% of Americans claim to have read a newspaper ”yesterday,” with only 23% saying they read a print newspaper. In the decade leading up to September 2012, the percentage of people who said they read the previous day’s newspaper in print daily fell by 18 points. Blaming ”the Internet” for these declines is easy, and partially correct, but technology isn’t the only factor behind the drop in newspaper content consumption.

Apps are terrific, but engagement is critical for newspaper success.
Apps are terrific, but engagement is critical for newspaper success.

Scottish newspaper consultant Jim Chisholm says that the decline in news consumption has more to do with societal changes than with Internet saturation. He recently told the Nieman Journalism Lab, ”Circulations in the U.S.A. were declining long before anyone invented the word ‘WWW’…The cause of decline in analog consumption is more to do with changes in society than it is to do with the emergence of the Internet.” The Internet may have accelerated this change, but is not solely responsible for it, according to Chisholm.

Today’s News Consumption Habits

Newspaper websites are phenomenally popular in the United States, with 61.5% of Americans with internet connections saying they visited a newspaper’s website in May 2013. However, American readers don’t often dig much deeper than a newspaper’s home page, and don’t spend a lot of time perusing content. Only 1.5% of page views are accounted for by newspapers, and newspaper websites only represent 1.7% of the total time that Americans spent online last May, according to Chisholm, who gets his data from comScore and Nielsen

Engagement Is Critical for Success

People do visit newspapers online frequently, but they spend a lot of their online time doing other things. What happens is that newspapers online end up competing for audience development not only with other online newspapers, but with other online news sources, and everything else on the Internet. Today’s online newspaper reader tends to only read the news that is personally relevant to him or her. So while newspapers do get plenty of page hits, they’re not getting a lot of engagement from readers.

Tablets May Be the Key Tool for Newspaper Audience Development

Last October, Chisholm told News&Tech.com that tablets are the key to future newspaper success: ”I could see a point where it is more cost/benefit effective to give a subscriber a free, customized tablet, loaded with their newspaper as a default, rather than spend money on paper and distribution.” Here are a few stats quoted in that article for the US market alone:

  • One-third of tablet users say they spend more time reading news than they did before they got a tablet.
  • Tablet news consumers say they prefer tablets over traditional computer screens, television, and printed newspapers.
  • Nearly 60% say their tablet has served as a replacement for print newspapers.
  • Around 120 million tablets were sold worldwide in 2012
Hundreds of millions of people worldwide use tablets, often for news.
Hundreds of millions of people worldwide use tablets, often for news.

Examples of Successful Tablet Editions

Two newspapers with successful tablet apps, but different tablet strategies are The San Francisco Chronicle and The Salt Lake City Deseret News.

The San Francisco Chronicle

The San Francisco Chronicle offers tablet apps for Android and iOS for free to Chronicle subscribers. Non-subscribers can test drive the app for the first 14 days for free. After that, the app costs $5.99 per month or $59.99 per year. App features include exclusive content, local news covering San Francisco, Wine Country, and Silicon Valley, with updates throughout the day, customizable instant traffic and weather, special photo galleries, blogs, entertainment features, and a seven-day archive.

The Salt Lake City Deseret News

In early 2013, the Deseret News reached an important milestone when its free tablet app was downloaded for the 100,000th time. Available for iOS and Android, the apps allow access to one of the country’s top newspaper websites. Chris Higbee, General Manager of DeseretNews.com says, “The tremendous growth we’ve seen in app downloads and the high levels of engagement are so gratifying, not just because they mean we’re reaching new users, but because those users continue to come back for more content.” Currently, this app is free to use and enjoy.

Tablets offer benefits similar to print and web, allowing readers to access content in a linear manner like a print paper, or to surf around. The important thing is, tablets aren’t going away. They will definitely be a part of the future for newspapers. The challenge to newspapers is getting people to not only use the app, but also stay engaged with tablet content. Newspaper apps are trying new strategies like those mentioned above, plus social media clusters, neighborhood features, and mobile geo-targeting to increase reader engagement, boost subscriptions, and improve revenue development.

Photo Credits: ddpavumba/freedigitalphotos.net, stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net

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