Datawatch: The habits of mobile news readers and what it means for business models

Posted on December 17, 2012



There’s lots of interesting facts and figures in the PewResearch Center’s Future of Mobile News report, but be far the most interesting is what it says about mobile news consumers approach to ads and subscriptions. The report shows digital subscriptions are still a seriously small market, but there may be hope for the future of the mobile ad market.

There are lots of interesting facts and figures about mobile news consumption in the second half of the Pew Research Center’s Future of Mobile News report released last week.

The study surveyed almost 10,000 US adults, and looked in detail at the habits of more than 2,000 smartphone and tablet owners. You could sift through the report… But instead here are some of its key findings:

— Browsers vs apps: Around 60 percent of smartphone and tablet news consumers use mainly a web browser to access news content on mobile. Only around 25 percent use mainly apps, while the rest use a mix.

— Gender: Male mobile news readers access news more regularly than women. Of male tablet owners, 43 percent say they access news daily on the device while 41 percent of male smartphone owners access news daily. That compares to 32 percent and 30 percent for women. College graduates and high earners are also more likely to access news daily on a mobile device.

— Tablet apps: 60 percent of people under 40 who consume news on tablets say they prefer “print-like” experiences to interactive applications with features such as video or audio (on that note, last week’s industry expert panel on interactive tablet editions is here).


The report also featured some very interesting stats on subscriptions and ads which suggest that while it’s going to be an uphill task persuading people to cough up for digital subscriptions, younger generations may give mobile advertising the boost it’s been waiting for.

Subs: digital doesn’t deliver, yet

Pew found that three-quarters of mobile news consumers over 50 have some sort of subscription to a print or digital news source. That falls to almost half (46 percent) of mobile news consumers under 50, but that’s still a healthy figure.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news stops, because as you can see from the pie charts below digital subscriptions are still a tiny part of the market. The number of people over who consume news on mobile that have a print subscription is 47 percent. But for 18 to 49 year-olds that falls to 25 percent, and younger people aren’t significantly more likely to go for digital subscriptions. Those lost print subscriptions aren’t being replaced with digital subs.


The report does at least give an indication of where it might be worth focusing your subscription sales efforts. Pew says that those people with mobile data connections on tablets, 26 percent of all tablet owners in the US, are “more likely to have every kind of subscription – print-only, bundled and digital only”.

Whether that finding has more to do with the relative wealth of people who can afford pricier 3G/4G tablets and the data plans that go with them is difficult to tell.

Ads: Younger fingers = more clicks

While younger mobile news consumers aren’t queuing up to subscribe to news organisations – print or digital – they might generate more revenue for free services.

Pew says that across all age groups, 49 percent of people notice ads, and 14 percent at least sometimes click on them. Those figures are a hell of a lot better than on PCs – but you could argue that it’s  just a case of novelty and banner blindness will inevitably kick in eventually.

However, Pew’s demographic breakdown shown in the graph below suggests that may not be the case.

Among the 18 to 29 year-olds, one quarter of them click on mobile ads at least some of the time. Revenues in the mobile ad market may not have caught up with traditional desktop on the whole, but Pew’s figures suggest they are far more effective.

One thing that’s important to remember about these figures though: Pew carried out its survey of those who read news on mobile devices. It doesn’t shed any light on the behaviour of people who aren’t reading news on mobile, or how to get them to do so