RJI survey reveals potential iPad impact on print subscriptions

Reynolds Journalism Institute
A new survey of 1,600 iPad owners was released Thursday and announced with dismal headlines in the trade press. For example:

The report from the Reynolds Journalism Institute provides one of the first in-depth looks at iPad consumers, their news reading habits and their intentions. Among the findings:

  • Breaking news and current events were the most popular uses of the tablet among 84 percent respondents.
  • More than 75 percent of those surveyed spent 30 minutes per day reading news on their iPads.
  • Almost half spent an hour per day reading news on their iPads.
  • Of the 931 print newspaper subscribers surveyed, there was a strong correlation with intent to cancel print subscriptions in favor of the tablet.

However, as evidenced by the demographics of the respondents, this is not an average group of iPad users. Eighty percent of this group was male, half reported incomes in excess of $100,000 and 76 percent had at least a bachelor’s degree.

In September, Nielsen reported that its survey of iPad owners found 65 percent to be male, 25 percent have incomes over $100,000 and 51 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree.

That means the RJI surveyed group is composed of more highly educated, affluent men than even the average iPad user. And iPad owners themselves are far more affluent, male and well educated than the average newspaper subscriber. For comparison, a 2006 study by Scarborough found newspaper subscribers, on average, were female, had a high school degree, and a household income under $75,000.

So, the data being gathered is fascinating, but are the lessons being learned applicable to a broader audience or the newspaper industry in general? It may be that the respondents — with higher income, higher education, highly interested in news — are exactly the population that newspapers will soon have left. In that case, look out, because tablet news apps seem destined to replace print newspapers in a hurry with that group.

The survey findings will be discussed Friday afternoon (3:15 pm ET) at RJI’s Tablet/E-Reader Symposium and Digital Publishing Alliance meeting. A live webcast will be available here. I have asked RJI’s program director for digital publishing, Roger Fidler, who is leading the study, for a comment and I will update with his thoughts when I hear back.

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