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Pew: getting local news through mobile devices is popular (but paying for it is not)

A new report from The Pew Internet & American Life Project confirms our suspicions: while Americans are increasingly likely to get news from their tablets and smartphones, few are actually willing to pay for the privilege.

According to the study, almost half (47 percent) of American adults are likely to use their mobile devices to get at least some of their local news and information. Practical, real-time information is most popular. For example, 42 percent of mobile owners use their devices to get weather updates and 37 percent get information about restaurants and local businesses. Thirty percent use tablets and smartphones to get local news.

While connecting to local news and information through mobile devices is popular, only ten percent of adults use apps to do so, a phenomenon researchers refer to as the “app gap.” Among those app users, only 10 percent are willing to pay for those applications. That amounts to just one percent of the entire adult population. For comparison purposes, consider that 33 percent of American adults report paying for a local newspaper.

Pew leveled the following question at the 2,251 people it surveyed: “If the only way to get full access to your local newspaper online on your computer, cell phone or other device was to pay a … monthly subscription fee, would you pay it or not?” The vast majority said “no.” Seventy-four percent said they wouldn’t pay $5 and just 23 percent said they would be willing to pay $5 for the service.

“Many news organizations are looking to mobile platforms, in particular mobile apps, to provide new ways to generate subscriber and advertising revenues in local markets,” noted Lee Rainie, director of The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. “The survey suggests there is a long way to go before that happens.”

Are media organizations making a mistake in trusting that tablets and smartphones can rejuvenate “old media?” Or will the American media news consumer eventually cotton to the idea of paying for content? The debate is likely to continue as the search for a sustainable business model continues.

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