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News outlets look to tablet computer users for revenue

More than half of owners read news on their devices, a survey shows, though there's not much willingness to pay for content. But there may be a way.

October 25, 2011|By James Rainey, Los Angeles Times
  • Tablet computers.
Tablet computers. (Odd Andersen / AFP/Getty…)

With roughly 25 million adults in America now owning an iPad or other tablet computer, a new survey shows that the early adopters are using the devices to follow the news even more than they use them for social networking, gaming, reading books or watching videos.

That seems to be a positive development for the U.S. news industry, but it comes with a nettlesome corollary: The majority of tablet enthusiasts say they don't want to pay to get access to news and other information, according to research by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Still, the survey raises the possibility that news outlets may be able to create new revenue streams, in particular via a class of "power news consumers" who gobble up information more voraciously than ever, often through paid tablet applications from their favorite outlets.

The findings will be of interest to many major news organizations that hope to augment their traditional platforms in print, video and radio by building audiences via tablets, smartphones and other portable devices.

"Eighteen months after the introduction of the iPad, 11% of U.S. adults now own a tablet computer of some kind," according to the Pew report, based on a series of surveys that began last summer. "About half (53%) get news on their tablet every day, and they read long articles as well as get headlines."

More than three-quarters of tablet users have the devices on every day. They spend an average of 90 minutes on them, their favorite activity being browsing the Internet (named by 67% of those surveyed) followed by handling email (54% email daily on their tablet), just ahead of the number who look at the news.

News companies have taken multiple approaches toward offering their information for the burgeoning audience. News Corp. created an independent staff product, the Daily. The publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News recently began selling its own tablets, along with discounted subscriptions to content from the papers on the device. The Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, is studying offering tablets to its customers but doesn't expect to have anything to introduce until next year.

The tablet acolytes have quickly adopted the devices as their favorite conveyance for news, over other computers, print publications and television. "Whether people will pay for content, though, still appears to be a challenge, even on the tablet," according to the survey, summarized by lead author Amy Mitchell.

Just 14% of tablet news users have paid directly for news content on the devices. But via a subscription to a print newspaper or magazine, 23% more have obtained digital news access. That roughly one-third who have paid directly for content is a much higher figure than suggested by previous research.

"We see a couple of things that suggest there may be some potential willingness to pay for information on tablets," Mitchell said. "People really like their tablets. The positive feedback is very strong. And they like to get news there."

james.rainey@latimes.com

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