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Tablet apps are crucial for news publishers

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Tablets are changing the way many of us get our news every day, according to new data from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The study found that 53 percent of tablet owners get news on their tablets daily, and surfing the Web (67 percent) is the only activity people said they were more likely to do than consume news. The research offers several lessons for media outlets looking to tap a growing market; it also provides insight regarding whether tablets can help — if not necessarily save — media.

Interestingly, only 21 percent of tablet owners received the news “mostly through apps,” while 40 percent said they mostly used the browser. That will change as news apps continue to come to market. But newspapers, TV stations, blogs and others targeting consumers through tablet apps should be mindful of several key strategies:

  • Go deep. Forty-two percent of users said they regularly read in-depth articles on their tablets, and 88 percent said they had read longer stories that they were not originally looking for in the past week. News apps must not only present a variety of stories but also make it easier for users to click on a headline or photo to drill down into lengthy stories that provide in-depth analysis.
  • Include multimedia. Sixteen percent of tablet news users said they regularly watch video clips to get their news. That’s a sizable-enough audience that any mainstream news app should include video. Reuters does a good job of this by presenting video clips just below the text headlines in its iPad app. Meanwhile, 71 percent of tablet owners prefer reading and listening (vs. 45 percent of all U.S. adults), so publishers should consider using clips and sound bites alongside the text.
  • Embrace advertising and combined subscriptions. Only 14 percent of tablet news users have paid for their news, so advertising dollars are crucial for content owners. But it’s astounding how ineffective app advertising can be. For instance, the Politico iPad app has run the same static, interstitial ad for Geico for weeks. Users who don’t click on it the first time are highly unlikely to click on it the second (or third or fourth) time, so the value of that ad decreases drastically after the initial impression. Politico should grow its base of ad partners and help to deliver richer, more interactive — and more lucrative — ads. Also, 23 percent of tablet news users have a print subscription that includes digital access. Print outlets should consider offering a single subscription for print, online and apps. (My colleague Paul Sweeting recently examined how publishers are experimenting with flexible subscription models.)
  • Make it easy to keep and share. More than 40 percent of tablet news consumers saved or tagged articles to read later, and 16 percent shared news through social networks. The Washington Post’s great iPad app helps readers by including a “Read later” function at the bottom of every page that saves the story for when users aren’t connected to the Internet. And the Denver Post’s iPad app includes tabs to help users share content via Twitter, Facebook or email, enabling consumers to help drive traffic to its site and creating a sense of community with its readers. That kind of interaction is key in an era where media is a two-way discussion between publishers and consumers.

Tablets offer compelling ways for media outlets to extend their content and engage with consumers. Those qualities will usher in an age of journalism where text can be combined with multimedia and social components to bring users more content and information than was possible in the pre-digital age. Those who view tablets as simply a platform for repurposing print content will fade away. But publishers who find ways to exploit the capabilities of tablets will eventually thrive in the new era of journalism.

Question of the week

What are your favorite tablet apps for news?