Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tablets - Has Print Found Its Digital Analogue?

Traditional print media outlets didn't have a lot of success going online - at least not at first.  While poor management/judgement was a major contributing factor, I'd suggest that the lack of a convenient reading platform for digital content was just as critical.  You could bring print content to a desktop's screen, but the totality of print bundles (newspapers, magazines, etc.) didn't translate as well, and to be frank, the reading experience from desktops sucks.  You can't quickly skim contents, its not portable, and its tough to share.  News organizations did find audiences for their stories and content online - particularly among those with desktops at work (who could access stories piecemeal during breaks).  However, most news isn't unique - and the Internet also allowed a lot of competition to emerge.  Laptops added some portability, but in the early years were heavy and had low battery life - again not ideal for reading print media products.  Experiments with longer-form content, such as magazines and books, proved the viability of digital forms, but not the desirability of desktops and laptops for extended reading.
  Then came the development of eBook readers - lighter, portable, relatively inexpensive, good battery life, and with a screen size that mimics paperbacks.  The major success of the Amazon Kindle device combined with the Kindle eBook store started an explosion in digital book publishing (see earlier posts here and here).  While Amazon encouraged marketing deals with a number of magazine publishers and newspapers, neither was very successful - at least partially due to the Kindle form factor.  The smaller screen size that was fine for books didn't work as well for the larger magazine and newspaper formats.  In addition, magazines felt constrained by the lack of color and limited advertising opportunities.  Newspaper readers had to remember to download daily versions (via link to desktop or a less-than-ubiquitous Wifi connection), and the refresh delays of early e-Ink based readers proved frustrating for those wanting a quick skim of articles.
  Next came smartphones, which offered constant & widespread connectivity, was easily portable, and had decent battery life.  Amazon and other eBook sellers quickly offered free reader apps, but the tiny screen proved problematic for books and magazines.  With newspapers, however, smartphones opened a new niche market for news - as an access point for headlines and breaking news (particularly sports and weather), and with the possibility of providing apps that could push news to an interested readership.  Apps also facilitated monetization, whether through subscriptions, individualized ads, or sales (of focused apps).
  Then came the iPad.  It offered a sleek, highly-portable connected device with a large (comparably) color touchscreen.  For book publishing, it was like an eReader on steroids - larger, faster, with multimedia capabilities (audio, video, links) built-in, where the action to turn a page mimicked traditional media page-turning. (See earlier post)  Tablets weren't merely an option for reading device - they started expanding the concept of books and texts, and their markets (textbooks in particular, see here and here).  And most importantly, eBook readers weren't just reading more free books; they were buying more books (post on Harris study).  Adding tablets to the expanding eReader base has ramped up diffusion and the development of digital book publishing.
   The combination of the iPad and the Flipboard app provided an exemplary demonstration of the potential for tablets as a digital platform for magazines as well as news.  The iPad provided a high-resolution colour screen, which while smaller than most print magazine formats, was large enough to provide quality read that magazines sought.  Flipboard provided a test base for content bundling and reading experience that also came close to the magazine ideal - easily skimmed, able to integrate text and image, and to go deeper with a tap or continue to the next "page" with a swipe reminiscent of turning a page.  And the ability to seamlessly integrate advertising.  The experience is so exemplary that it passed 20 million users and 2000 content providers last summers.
   It would seem that tablets offer a viable digital platform for the consumption of traditionally print content forms, when combined with growing broadband access.  On the other hand, tablets are proving to be excellent platforms for Internet access, for delivering audio and video, as well as a good gaming platform, and a reasonable computing platform.  So the question for traditional print outlets is will readers embrace tablets, and how the rise of print through tablets will impact product demand.

  For the last year or so, a wide range of trade and academic studies suggest that tablets may provide a viable digital solution for print content delivery.  The latest study to come out is from analytics firm comScore,  They surveyed a rolling sample of U.S. tablet owners for three months, ending in August, and found that reading on tablets continues to increase.
“Tablets are fundamentally redefining how people consume news and information, with the format more conducive to reading longer form content than PCs or smartphones,” said Mark Donovan, comScore SVP of Mobile. “In the case of online newspapers, tablets are now driving 7 percent of total page views, an impressive figure considering the relative infancy of the tablet space. Publishers that understand how these devices are shifting consumption dynamics will be best positioned to leverage this platform to not only drive incremental engagement among current subscribers but also attract new readers.”
  More than a third (37.1%) of tablet owners use their device to read a newspaper at least once a month, and 11.5% report reading newspapers on their tablets daily.  Magazine readership through tablets was around the same - 39.6% read magazines on their tablets at least monthly, and 9.7% reported reading magazines on their tablets daily. Readership is highest among the 25-34 demographic.  An interesting aspect of the report was that tablet newspaper readers weren't very different from tablet magazine readers in terms of demographics, or in terms of the specific tablets that were used for reading (iPads, Android tablets, Kindle Fire, NOOK tablet). 

  The comScore study results, in terms of increasing use of tablets for media consumption, fall in line with a wealth of other studies.  And the consistency in user demographic breakdowns raises some interesting questions - is this a reflection of a audience segment of regular (heavy) readers, who use whatever platforms are available? Do they see tablets as a supplement to print outlets, a complement, or a substitute?
  At this point, I think that tablets are proving to be a valuable digital platform for the delivery of a wide range of traditional media content - and the first decent substitute for print.

Sources - Tablets Capturing Newspaper Viewers, Research Brief (MediaPost blog)
Tablets Reinvent Americans' Relationship with Print,  comScore press release

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