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Future of Mobile News

Press Release

PEJ Deputy Director Amy Mitchell, Director Tom Rosenstiel at PEJ or Amy Jaick, The Economist Group Communications Manager at 212.641.9834

The Future of Mobile News

New Study Finds Half of U.S. Adults Have Mobile Internet – With Big Implications for News

October 1, 2012
-The percentage of Americans who have mobile internet access has risen dramatically in the last year, a trend that is rapidly changing how people get news and the implications for how to finance it, according to a new, detailed survey of news use on mobile devices conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) in collaboration with The Economist Group.

The study is based on a survey conducted from June 29 to August 8 among 9,513 adults including 4,638 mobile device owners.  The survey updates trends from a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind study of news consumption habits on tablets conducted a year ago by both organizations.

Nearly a quarter (22%) of adults now own some kind of tablet computer, double the number a year ago (11%), and smartphone ownership is up nine points, from 35% to 44%.  As a result, half of all Americans (50%) now have mobile internet access through either a tablet or a smartphone.

Fully 64% of tablets owners and 62% of smartphone owners say they use the devices for news at least weekly, according to the survey.  And a third of all U.S. adults now get news on a mobile device at least once a week. And Americans are doing more than just clicking headlines on their mobile devices: 73% of adults who consume news on their tablet read in-depth articles at least sometimes, including 19% who do so daily.

“Even with the broadening population and wide range of competing activities, mobile owners are drawn to news on their tablet and smartphones,” said PEJ deputy director Amy Mitchell. “The evidence is also mounting that mobile devices are adding to, rather than replacing, how much news people consume,” said Mitchell.  In all, 43% of tablet news users say their tablets are adding to the amount of time they spend with the news and 31% say they are getting news from new sources they didn’t use before.

At the same time, consumers are not yet taking advantage of all the aspects of mobile technology.  For instance, while mobile devices would allow people to get news wherever they are, most people use their tablets and smartphones for news at home, and usually just once a day.

The survey also explores the financial implications of mobile news consumption.  Nearly a fifth (19%) of mobile news consumers has paid for a digital subscription of some kind in the last year.   Still, a greater percent, 31%, report having a print only subscription and many of them remain loyal to print.   Just a quarter (24%) of those with print subscriptions are considering giving them up for a digital one.

“There are a variety of activities one can do on a mobile device today,” said Paul Rossi, managing director and executive vice president of The Economist Group, Americas.”However, even with all those options, reading is still one of the most popular activities. With more people than ever before using these devices, this clearly represents an incredible opportunity for publishers across the country.”

Among other findings:

  • Just over half, 52%, of tablet owners report owning an iPad, compared with 81% a year ago. Fully 48% now own an Android-based device, including two in ten, 21%, who own a Kindle Fire.
  • Rather than replacing old technology, the introduction of new devices and formats is creating a new kind of “multi-platform” news consumer. More than half, 54%, of tablet news users also get news on a smartphone; 77% also get news on a desktop/laptop and 50% get news in print. What’s more, 25% of get news on all four platforms.
  • Those who get news throughout the day on their mobile devices are more engaged news consumers. People who get news on their devices multiple times per day, on either the smartphone or tablet, tend to turn to more sources, get news from new sources, read in-depth news articles, watch news videos and send and receive news through email or social networks. Tablet news consumers who get news more than one time during the day are also twice as likely as those who get news once a day to have paid for news on their tablet (10% versus 4%).
  • There has been movement over the last year toward using the browser rather than apps for tablet news consumption. Fully 60% of tablet news users mainly use the browser to get news on their tablet, just 23% get news mostly through apps and 16% use both equally. In 2011, 40% got news mostly through a browser, 21% mostly through apps and 31% used both equally. But as was revealed in the 2011 survey, app news users—and those who use both apps and the browser equally—remain in many ways more engaged and deeper news users than those who mostly use their browser.  The browser is preferred on the smartphone as well (61% get news mostly through a browser, 28% mostly through apps and 11% use both equally).
  • Two distinct news audiences have emerged on tablets-new-found digital customers and those who originally turned to that outlet in print form and are still loyal to the print product. Nearly a fifth of mobile news users, 19%, have paid for a digital news subscription of some kind in the last year, and a third of tablet news users with digital subscriptions have added them since they acquired the device.  But even more mobile news users, 31%, have print-only subscriptions, and three quarters of these have no plans to give them up.  These print subscribers also prefer their app-based news to be more like a traditional reading experience rather than to have high-tech features.  For the news organizations, this brings both the potential for new audiences as well as the challenge of accommodating the differing styles and approaches of these distinct audiences.
  • A sizable percentage of people notice ads on mobile devices. Half of mobile news users-49% of tablet news users and 50% of smartphone news users-sometimes or often notice ads when they are getting news on their mobile device. But roughly 15% click on ads when getting news on one of the mobile devices and about 7% actually buy something.

In addition to the main report, PEJ and The Economist Group released an infographic of the main findings, and invited designers to offer their own accurate, clear and innovative data visualizations through a data visualization challenge. Selected infographics will be featured on PEJ’s website, The Economist‘s Tumblr, Pinterest, and Facebook pages, and The Economist‘s Graphic Detail blog.   


The Project for Excellence in Journalism tracks the transformation of journalism in a changing information landscape through its annual State of the News Media report and other research reports. As part of the nonpartisan, non-advocacy Pew Research Center, it does not take positions on policy issues.

About The Economist Group

The publications and services delivered under The Economist brand are The Economist magazine, Economist Digital, Economist Intelligence Unit, Economist Conferences, The World In series and Intelligent Life. The Group’s other brands include CQ Roll Call and European Voice (aimed at decision-makers on Capitol Hill and in Brussels respectively), EuroFinance, a cash and treasury management event business, digital media agency TVC Group and an online advertising network, the Ideas People Channel. The Economist Group is privately owned.

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