The Poynter Institute held a conference last week to showcase its latest study of how tablet users consume news and the problems designers have in satisfying these users' demands.
Tablets are rapidly becoming a platform of choice. More than 20 percent of U.S. adults own one, double the percentage of just a year ago, according to a Pew study.
Economy-minded publishers are trying to find ways to "publish the content once and have it adapt to all platforms"--mobile, tablet, online and print--Sam Kirkland writes.
One solution to this problem is called "responsive design," which was much-discussed at the event, held at Medill School of Journalism. Responsive design lets news organizations avoid employing legions of computer programmers to create a unique platform to display content on each of the dozens of mobile phones, tablets and other devices used to get the news. So far only a few organizations have executed it.
Smaller news organizations that lack resources to create specialized apps to display their content can use inexpensive templates that work across platforms, said Mario Garcia, a principal in the Eyetrack study.
News organizations that want to remain relevant to their readers need to be on all platforms because many readers are using more than one device in a single day, Poynter's Regina McCombs told conference attendees.
Readers tend to use tablets and print for a more leisurely read (a "lean-back" experience) while they use mobile and online for an intense "lean-forward" engagement with breaking news.
Here are a few of the findings of the Eyetrack study of tablet readers:
Before selecting an article to read, readers looked at an average of 18 items on the tablet.
They spent an average of 98 seconds with the first article they read, which should tell writers and editors about the need to create compelling content.
Readers tend to prefer reading with the tablet in a horizontal position.
61 percent were "intimate readers" who constantly touched the screen to move text and adjust viewing.
There has been a lot of hopeful talk about tablet readers saving newspapers and long-form journalism by providing the kind of intimate experience that print readers treasure. Reuters columnist Felix Salmon sees no future in this revenue source, as he forecasts doom for the digital Newsweek.
A new Pew study cited by Rick Edmonds finds some hopeful signs of revenue from mobile devices: 19 percent of those who get news via mobile have paid for a digital subscription. Of those, Pew found, 33 percent say they have added some kind of new digital subscriptions since getting their device. But only a quarter, 27 percent, say their digital subscriptions have replaced those they used to get in print, suggesting that a majority of these digital subscribers represent a new source of revenue for news.
Looking for the business opportunity here, Edmonds concludes, "My own take on the business implications of the findings: Mobile advertising solutions are still very much a work in progress, but bundled subscriptions are looking better than ever. Sell users a subscription on their favorite platform and give them access to the rest free or at a small up charge."
Given the growth in tablets, publishers have to be there. This Eyetrack study gives some clues about how to engage them. But everyone is still learning, and as they learn, new devices are being created that might make the ones we have less relevant.
This post originally appeared on News Entrepreneurs and is published on IJNet with permission.
James Breiner is co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University. He is a former Knight International Journalism Fellow who launched and directed the Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Guadalajara.
Photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee, CC-licensed on Flickr.