The joint study by the Pew Research Centre’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and The Economist Group brings unwelcome news for media outlets hoping to bolster flagging print revenue with paid digital news content.
Eleven percent of US adults now own a tablet computer such as Apple’s iPad or some other device, according to the study.
Seventy-seven percent of 1,159 US tablet owners surveyed said they use their tablet every day, spending an average of about 90 minutes on the device.
Sixty-seven percent said they use their tablet daily to surf the Web, 54 percent said they use it to send and receive email and 53 percent said they use it to get news.
Thirty-nine percent said they use their tablet daily for social networking, 30 percent for gaming, 17 percent for reading books and 13 percent for watching movies and videos.
But while more than half of tablet owners were using the devices daily to get news, just 14 percent said they have paid directly for content, the study found.
Another 23 percent have a subscription to a print newspaper or magazine that includes digital access.
Twenty-one percent of the tablet news consumers who haven’t paid directly for news said they would be willing to spend $5 a month if that were the only way to access their favourite news source on the tablet.
“When it was launched, many observers believed that the tablet might help change the experience of news consumers and the economic ground rules of digital news consumption,” the study’s authors said.
“That belief was based on the sense that people would consume information on tablets largely through special applications or apps… which news organizations might be able to charge for,” they said.
The study found, however, that while two-thirds of tablet news consumers have a news application on their tablet, most rely on their ordinary browsers.
Forty percent said they get their news mainly through a Web browser, 31 percent said they use news applications and the Web browser equally, and 21 percent said they get their news mainly through apps.
“If news organizations are more successful at finding a way to reap revenue in the tablet environment than they have on the Internet more broadly, the movement toward tablet consumption could be quite promising,” the study’s authors said. “The likelihood of that, though, is uncertain at best.”
“And the further movement away from print and television suggests that news companies have little time to find that new economic model before the revenue from their legacy platforms completely dries up,” it said.
The study was conducted between July 15 and July 30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.