Report: More mobile users getting news on smartphones and tablets, but can media companies cash in?

March 19, 2012
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The 2012 State of the News Media report says that the vast majority of the 27% who get their news on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets also still use notebook and desktop computers to get news as well. But an interesting distinction of these mobile news consumers is that they are more likely to go directly to a news site or use an app rather than search indicating a certain level of brand loyalty and awareness when it comes to news sites. 

Just 9% of U.S. adults say they follow news recommendations from Facebook or Twitter “very often” on any digital device — compared with 36% who say the same about directly going to a news organization’s site or app; 32% who access news through search; and 29% who use news organizing sites like Topix or Flipboard. 

Still, the study concludes that social media is an increasingly important driver of news. Based on PEJ’s analysis of traffic data from Hitwise, 9% of traffic to news sites now comes from Facebook, Twitter and smaller social media sites. That is up by more than half since 2009. Meanwhile, the percentage coming from search engines, has dropped to 21% of news site traffic, from 23% in 2009. 

“News organizations have a big opportunity in the social and mobile realms,” PEJ deputy director Amy Mitchell said. “But they will need to do a better job than they did in the desktop realm of understanding audience behavior and developing effective technology and revenue models.”

PEJ says as many as 100 newspapers are expected to join the roughly 150 dailies that have already moved to some kind of digital subscription model in the coming months. The moves may well be inspired by the success of The New York Times, which now has roughly 390,000 online subscribers, but also out of economic necessity. PEJ notes newspaper industry revenue — circulation and advertising combined — has shrunk 43% since 2000. 

In 2011, PEJ says newspapers overall lost roughly $10 in print ad revenue for every new $1 gained online. (That suggests no improvement from what a separate PEJ study of 38 papers found regarding 2010, when the print losses to digital gains in the sample were a $7-to-$1 ratio.)

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