The iPad presents a good news-bad news scenario for the newspaper industry. The good is people enjoy reading newspapers on the Apple tablet; the bad is they are likely to cancel their print subscriptions within six months, a study shows.
Thus is the dilemma for the newspaper industry as the digital age whittles away the relevance of the beloved print editions. While the iPad holds the promise of reviving an industry struck hard by the amount of free news on the Web, it also means publishers will have to move quickly to capitalize on the shift in reading habits the device is likely to cause, a study by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri found.
Specifically, the study based on a survey of 1,600 iPad users found that three-quarters spent at least 30 minutes a day reading news on their iPad, with nearly half spending an hour or more. Among those who spent the longer amount of time, more than 58% were very likely to say goodbye to their print subscriptions within six months.
"These findings are encouraging for newspaper publishers who plan to begin charging for subscriptions on their iPad app editions early next year, but our survey also found a potential downside: iPad news apps may diminish newspaper print subscriptions in 2011," Roger Fidler, research project leader for RJI, says in a statement released Thursday.
Nine in 10 survey respondents who spend at least an hour a day reading news on the iPad say they are "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to use a newspaper's app, as opposed to using a Web browser to head to the publication's site. This level of willingness gives newspapers an opportunity to shift their subscription model from the print to the digital world. There is also an opportunity for the publication's advertisers.
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A digital subscription will have its downside. The study's findings show that people expect to pay less for an electronic subscription than for a print subscription. In addition, the app has to be very easy-to-use and reliable, with access to all the content available on the print edition. Less important are video and interactive features.
Some news organizations are already going after the iPad reader. Survey respondents say those publishers meeting their expectations on the tablet include The New York Times, USA Today, The Associated Press, and The Wall Street Journal.
The New York Times is offering its newspaper free on the iPad through the end of the year. Starting next year, the newspaper plans to require a paid subscription. The newspaper also plans to start next year charging for unlimited access to news on its Web site. The Times won't be alone adopting a paid model for the Web and mobile devices. The Wall Street Journal has always charged for electronic access to its content.