News site visitors look like early tech adopters
Far from being fuddy-duddy Luddites, newspaper website visitors actually appear to be early and passionate technology adopters.
The surprisingly high interest in high tech among online news consumers is revealed in a ground-breaking poll by Greg Harmon of ITZ Belden, who discovered that news-site visitors own 1.5 times more smart phones than the average American and are eager to get their hands on the new iPad.
Harmon’s findings suggest publishers may be farther behind their readers and advertisers than they think in the race into the digital era. More on that in a moment. First, here’s what Harmon learned:
In a survey of visitors to the websites of three newspapers in mid-sized communities far from the tech hubs on either coast, Harmon found that 30% of site visitors already have smart phones and that 25% of them are thinking about acquiring one. By contrast, the Nielsen Co. last summer said national smart-phone penetration was barely 17% while Harmon found it to be 25% among news-site visitors.
With about two weeks to go before the iPad ships on April 3, researcher Harmon said a “stunning” 30% of visitors to newspaper sites are considering the purchase of the latest Apple confection in addition to the 6% of respondents who already bought Kindles or another early e-reader.
“The level of interest in tablets at this stage is unbelievably strong,” said Harmon, who is by far the foremost researcher into the behavior of newspaper consumers. “When I first saw the numbers, I actually thought something was wrong with the data.”
After confirming the integrity of his research, Harmon said he was bowled over because the results came from non-urban markets where the circulation of the three participating papers ranged from 50,000 to 70,000. The publishers of the papers asked him not to identify the markets.
Harmon said he found the interest in the iPad “stunning,” because his research into the prior adoption of technology would have led him to guess that only about 12% of news-site visitors would be interested in buying iPads. Here’s why:
As smart phones, personal digital assistants and other technical toys were introduced over the years, the usual pattern was that the number of consumers contemplating purchases would be twice as great as the number of consumers who actually owned them. This time around, however, the number of potential tablet buyers is five times greater than the number of current e-reader owners.
Harmon said the interest in tablets spiked after the high-profile launch of the iPad in January. “The number of people considering tablets basically doubled overnight,” he said.
News-site consumers appear to be technologically intrepid in spite of the fact that they are just as gray as print readers. As is the case with print products, more than half of the online audience at newspaper sites is over the age of 50, an age cohort representing only about 30% of the total U.S. population. Like print consumers, online visitors tend to be wealthier and better educated than the population as a whole. Now, it looks like they are tech-savvy, too.
While the evidently powerful interest among news consumers in the iPad is good for Apple, it should serve as a wake-up call to newspaper publishers, who have been slow to think about how to modify their products to serve what now appears to be a faster-developing market than most of them thought it would be.
As is illustrated in the table below, the rapid adoption of smart phones among newspaper-site visitors suggests that many publishers already may be late in developing sophisticated applications in a fast-accelerating market where more than 3 billion applications to date have been downloaded for the iPhone alone.
While newspapers are struggling to stabilize their core print business at a time of contacting readership and advertising, they somehow must find the time, resources and inspiration to develop far more sophisticated next-gen digital products than they have to date.
If newspapers fail to produce appealing cross-media content for the emerging tablet and smart-phone platforms, they will lose what’s left of their readers and advertisers to the competitors who do.