By: Nu Yang
A recent Pew Research Center study found that the majority of tablet owners — 77 percent — use their device every day, and an average session lasts 90 minutes. With numerous tablet manufacturers and operating systems coming into play, readers have more choices than ever for how they receive their news.
Some publishers and media companies have adapted by developing apps or making their publications available on digital newsstands. Then there’s Philadelphia Media Network, which is offering Android tablets in the U.S. preloaded with proprietary news content. Tribune Co. has also announced plans to develop a tablet device of its own.
Only time will tell if these strategies are hits or misses, but one thing is for sure: Tablets need to be recognized. So, what should publishers keep in mind when it comes to these devices in 2012? Here’s what we know so far and a peek at what is yet to come.
Apple vs. Android
When Apple introduced the iPad in April 2010, the company reported it had sold 3 million units in just 80 days. The new tablet market was clearly a viable one, and Google was quick to respond by making its open-source operating system Android available on tablets made by Sony, Acer, Motorola, Samsung, and others.
According to an August 2011 report by comScore, Apple had the highest share of connected devices and smartphones in use at 43.1 percent, which was fueled by the iPad’s dominance in the tablet market. Android accounted for 34.1 percent of the total mobile and connected device universe.
The report also found that iPads dominated among tablets in driving digital traffic — the devices delivered 97.2 percent of all tablet traffic in the U.S. in August.
And what kind of consumer is behind this traffic? Middle-age, higher-income, working individuals who follow the news more closely and more frequently than the population overall, said the Pew Study.
The study also found that about two-thirds of tablet news users have a news app on their device. The study stated, “Those tablet news users who primarily use apps for news are the most avid consumers of news on tablets. They also consume the news more heavily and in more different ways. They also report higher levels of enjoyment and learning from their news experience.”
With this type of audience in place, it may be reason enough for publishers to continue to develop and promote their news apps and find ways to charge for them.
Last year, Google revealed its online charging service, One Pass, to publishers. One Pass charges for content on tablets, as well as on websites and smartphones. Publishers get to keep 90 percent of revenue from sales.
According to Google, “Publishers have control over how users can pay to access content and set their own prices. They can sell subscriptions of any length with auto-renewal, individual articles, or multiple-issue packages.”
Publishers may be attracted to the freedom Google’s One Pass offers, but they have also reported success with Apple’s Newsstand, a feature included in iOS 5, which debuted last October. Newsstand organizes magazine and newspaper app subscriptions in a folder on the home screen for tablet users and lets them access their favorite publications quickly and easily. The app is free, but Apple takes 30 percent of the subscription price for newspapers that charge for their content.
In a survey from the Audit Bureau of Circulations titled “Going Mobile: How Publishers are Maturing and Monetizing Their Offerings,” just 8 percent of publishers said they thought Apple’s tactics were favorable to them. Forty-three percent said the publishing industry needs to develop an alternative to Apple to be successful in the future.
But E&P did report several success stories last month, including The New York Times, which saw a 429 percent spike in iPad app downloads and a 5,596 percent increase in iPhone app downloads since joining Newsstand. For $34.99, users can purchase access to the NYTimes apps for iPad and iPhone.
Conde Nast, publisher of Allure, GQ, and Vanity Fair, saw a 268 percent increase in magazine subscriptions since the Newsstand app launched. The company also announced it would make digital editions of all its publications available on the Nook and Nook Color e-readers, where readers can choose between single-copy sales and monthly subscription options.
The Fire and the Nook
Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook tablet are poised to share the stage with the iPad and Android devices. Research firm IHS iSuppli estimated Amazon shipped 3.9 million Kindle Fire tablets this past holiday season, and Barnes & Noble issued a statement that the Nook tablet launched to “big order volume” in November.
Both devices are much more than their e-reader predecessors. The $199 Kindle Fire is a 7-inch tablet that links with Amazon’s collection of digital music, video, magazine, and book services. It includes popular apps such as Netflix, Pandora, and Hulu. The $249 Nook tablet also features a 7-inch touchscreen and comes preloaded with apps like the Fire but offers a longer battery life and more storage space. Another benefit — the Nook provides free in-store customer service at more than 700 Barnes & Noble locations.
In an article titled “Here’s the secret to Amazon’s, B&N’s tablet strategy,” Kevin Tofel of GigaOm.com speculated that simplicity and reasonable prices will win the tablet wars. “Neither (the Fire nor the Nook) is meant to handle some of the heavier computer-like tasks of their bigger brethren … and that allows both companies to focus on providing a great experience for the functions that consumers want … think of the controlled Apple iPad experience in a cheaper, smaller form factor.”
With the launch of Kindle Fire, Amazon introduced its own newsstand feature for selling subscriptions and single issues of more than 400 digital newspapers and magazines. Last month, The Wall Street Journal released an app exclusively for the Fire. The free app can be downloaded from the Amazon Appstore. Within the app, WSJ offers an automatically renewing monthly subscription for $17.29 per month, and subscribers will receive unlimited access to WSJ.com and all WSJ smartphone and tablet apps.
IHS iSuppli also estimated Amazon would have a 13.8 percent share of global media tablet shipments at the end of 2011, placing Amazon second to Apple’s estimated 65.6 percent. In third is Samsung with a projected 4.8 percent, and Barnes & Noble comes in fourth with an estimated 4.7 percent.
Apps vs. HTML5
The ABC survey also found that the number of publishers who said they had a well-developed plan for the mobile market rose to 59 percent, up from just 28 percent in 2009.
One aspect publishers should explore is whether or not to shift their publications from the Web to apps. HTML5 can format an existing website into a tablet-friendly — or even smartphone-friendly — layout. This method is cheaper than building an app and gives the publisher the ability to push content to all devices from one main site. It also eliminates the 30 percent fee publishers must pay Apple.
When it comes to developing apps, most publishers are still focusing their efforts on Apple products, according to the survey. Sixty-one percent of newspaper publishers said they have an iPhone app, and 54 percent said they have an iPad app. Of those publishers with apps, 45 percent said they charge for their iPad apps, 35 percent receive payment for iPhone apps, and 34 percent earn revenue from Amazon’s Kindle.
The Philly experiment
With the tablet’s growing popularity, it’s probably no surprise that many eyes are watching Philadelphia Media Network Inc. (PMN), owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com. The current strategy is part of a series of initiatives called Project Liberty, designed to boost digital readership.
Last September, PMN offered a new tablet to the first 5,000 subscribers who signed up with a bundled subscription offer. The Android tablet is an Arnova 10 G2 made by French company Archos, and it comes preloaded with digital editions of the Inquirer and Daily News as well as a new Inquirer app. Consumers have two pricing options: Purchase the tablet for $129 with a one-year subscription to all three apps for $12.99 every four months, or purchase the tablet for $99 with a two-year subscription to all three apps for $9.99 every four months.
At press time, half of the tablets had been reported sold so far.
“I’m very pleased with the success,” said PMN CEO and publisher Gregory Osberg. “We’re learning a lot about the marketplace and who is utilizing the tablet.”
Osberg said his company has learned to be more proactive with consumers. “Within 48 hours of a purchase, we give that customer a follow-up phone call,” he said. Customer service support was brought in-house at PMN’s offices, with a dedicated staff specifically trained to offer tablet support. PMN also added online ordering to make it more convenient for consumers.
Another move was hiring former Consumer Reports executive Jerry Steinbrink as chief brand officer, responsible for leading the company’s overall brand strategy across digital and print platforms. Steinbrink said he thought the tablet experiment was an “exciting challenge.”
“I felt strongly the content and the tablet would make an appealing package for people,” he said.
The company’s previous marketing slogan, “Seize the Future,” was what Osberg called a rallying cry. “An invitation to be a part of the future,” he said. As the company moved into phase two of the tablet strategy, featuring software and hardware upgrades, Steinbrink said the campaign changed to “Your Everyday Tablet,” delivering a more user-friendly message.
Another marketing tool is to get the tablet into the hands of consumers. “We’re going into food courts, malls, trade shows, and trains,” Osberg said. “We’ve even gone to the Apple store and asked people, ‘How do you tablet?’”
The tablet was targeted to mid-level, younger professionals — what Osberg called “the Philly.com audience.” According to Osberg, 75 percent of the tablet subscribers have taken advantage of the two-year offer, creating a long-term relationship with the paper.
“Existing subscribers are also purchasing tablets,” he said. “So far, we’ve seen a low single number in subscription cancellations due to the tablet. We’re seeing them go into households, where one family member may read the paper while the other reads on the tablet. We’re still seeing different reading habits.”
But it’s not about print vs. digital. “Our approach is to be a content factory by providing more choices for consumers to be engaged with content,” Osberg said. “We should be right in the center, not trailing or playing catch-up.”
Osberg said the goal with the tablet strategy is to increase the number of people engaged with that content and willing to pay for it. Revenue opportunities also emerged by working with advertising partners such as Main Line Health, Comcast, and Wells Fargo.
What this all means for the newspaper business
There’s an abundance of information on tablets available, but for publishers the main question is: “Can tablets bring the struggling newspaper industry back to life?” While the Pew study found that consuming news ranked as one of the more popular activities on the tablet, it also found that a large majority of owners were reluctant to pay directly for the news they received.
And the ABC survey showed publishers had mixed feelings about how to charge consumers for accessing content on multiple platforms. Forty-one percent said readers should pay one price and receive access to all platforms — print, Web, and mobile — while another 40 percent said readers should pay more for each additional platform.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the consumers to decide,” Osberg said. “And it’s up to us (the publishers) to accommodate that consumer.”
Publishers are undoubtedly invested in mobile content. The ABC survey reported that 85 percent of respondents said they currently have mobile content for smartphones, e-readers, or tablets — up from 76 percent the previous year.
Osberg is one of those publishers, stating he has been operating digitally for 14 years. He encouraged publishers to experiment and enter an area outside their comfort zone. When he left his position with Newsweek to work at CNET, he called it one of the smartest things he ever did. When he returned to Newsweek as publisher, he transformed and relaunched Newsweek.com into a top magazine website and saw its ad revenue grow.
Osberg said he wouldn’t be surprised if other cities and daily newspapers decided to bundle tablets with news content — and he welcomed it. “The more who move in this direction, the better.”