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News Media Needs to Adapt to Digital Age

o Tony Bradley
25.10.2011 kl 17:52 | PC World (US)

Do you have a tablet? If so, you are part of a small, but growing population. A new survey from the Pew Research Center claims that 11 percent of adults now own a tablet of some sort, and reveals some interesting facts and trends related to tablet usage.

 

Do you have a tablet? If so, you are part of a small, but growing population. A new survey from the Pew Research Center claims that 11 percent of adults now own a tablet of some sort, and reveals some interesting facts and trends related to tablet usage.

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism conducted the survey of nearly 1,200 tablet users in collaboration with The Economist Group. The focus of the survey revolves around news: how tablet users consume news, whether they're willing to pay for news, and what the implications are for revenue potential and the future of journalism.

According to the survey, almost eight in ten tablet owners use their tablets daily--an average of 90 minutes. What they do during those 90 minutes varies. Email is the number one tablet-based task, and social networking, games, reading books, and watching movies all made the list as well. Right at the top, though--just behind email--53 percent of survey respondents report consuming news on their tablet daily.

Eight in ten respondents say that they now get news from their tablet that they used to consume on traditional laptop and desktop PCs. A majority also report using the tablet to replace news previously acquired from print (59 percent) and television (57 percent) sources.

Two-thirds of tablet users have a news app of some sort, but the leading method of getting news is still the Web browser. Forty percent rely mainly on the browser for accessing news, and 31 percent report using the browser and apps roughly equally, while only 21 percent say they get their news primarily from apps.

The CNN iPad app is a great source because you can set it up to notify you when breaking news occurs. When things are going on in the world--like Libyan dictators getting killed, or earthquakes leveling parts of Turkey--my first indication is generally the alert tone on my iPad 2.

One of the problems facing news publications in the tablet era is how to make money. Journalists expect to get paid, so there has to be a way to monetize the information and generate revenue. Only 14 percent of tablet owners pay for news content, though. The survey finds that a majority are reluctant to spend money to get news even if it is from one of their favorite news sources.

Respected sources like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have implemented a paywall system. Basically, you are allowed to read some limited amount of news for free, but once you hit your quota you have to subscribe and pay in order to access the full content.

Many print media sources are struggling with the transition from print to digital. Resources like Time magazine, and Wired magazine provide free access to online information for paid subscribers who receive the print publication, and don't offer a digital-only alternative.

You can get the tablet version of Time magazine on the iPad for $5 per issue--a massive $260 per year if you bought the digital issue every week. Or, you can subscribe to the magazine for $30 a year, which includes access to download the iPad editions as well.

This is counter-intuitive and short-sighted. I only really want to read the digital version on my iPad, but I would obviously rather not spend almost ten times as much money to get the same information. Time would rather cut down trees, print magazines, and waste money shipping it to my house just so I can throw it away and read the content on my iPad for a reasonable fee.

The logic behind this has to do with outdated thinking. Magazines and newspapers charge for advertising based on the number of subscribers to the print edition, and the print edition is still where most of the advertising is done. News publications and advertisers need to adapt and figure out how to transition that entire model to the digital age.

Time should offer a digital-only subscription for $25--or even $20. Time could still count me as a subscriber, and the digital edition of the magazine can still show ads--better, more interactive ads that are more likely to result in action on the part of the reader. Even better, Time would get to keep most of that money because it wouldn't be wasting it on paper, printing, shipping, and other wasteful costs associated with sending me the print edition.

Tablets represent a growing segment, but they are just one facet of the larger issue of delivering news and generating revenue with digital journalism. The combination of mobile devices--smartphones and tablets--and social networks like Facebook and Twitter have completely altered the way people get, consume, and share information, and traditional print media needs to adapt or get left behind.

I don't agree that users are unwilling to pay for news. I think users are unwilling to pay to receive a print publication they don't want just for the privilege of accessing the same information digitally. I also think users expect the digital news to take advantage of the capabilities of devices like tablets and not simply copy and paste the print news into an app.

Resources like Time and Wired have awesome apps that embrace the unique features of the iPad. The articles are more engaging and interactive, and link to additional content that can expand my understanding of the topic.

It is a step in the right direction, and the apps are definitely worth paying for. They just need to find a way to deliver the app content at a reasonable cost that doesn't include forcing users to also subscribe to the print edition.

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