Digitally distracted?

Last month, the Pew Research Center released the results of a study of news consumption on tablet and smartphone devices. The report compiles responses from 2,013 tablet owners and 3,947 smartphone users.

The study revealed that something along the lines of 40% of men and 30% of women read news on mobile devices. The data is broken down a number of different ways, including age, education and income.

The full study is presented as a series of linked web pages; you can start viewing them here. I wanted to call out a couple of charts that looked at “other mobile activities”. The results measure the likelihood that a mobile device would be used for social networking, video consumption, game activity, and book and magazine reading.

On tablets, a third or more of those responding engage in social networking or game playing, while less than a quarter read books. Less than 10% read magazines on tablets.

Interestingly, for both books and magazines, the share of those reading them on tablets declines with age. The report also found that “18 to 29-year old [smartphone] owners are twice as likely as other age groups to read books on a daily basis.” It went on to say:

“Additional data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project support this finding. Its December 2011 survey found three times as many 18- to 29-year-olds reading books daily on their smartphones: 12% versus 4% of 30-49 year olds and 1% of those 50 and older. Magazine reading (at a weekly rather than daily rate) is also more common among younger ages on the smartphone, though there, the division is between those under 50 and those 50 and over.”

Interestingly, lower-income readers were also found to be more likely to read books on tablets. That could reflect price sensitivity, among other things.

Survey data is just that, a snapshot of what people say they are doing at a given point in time. Still, the trends evident with age and income do suggest opportunities to market book and magazine content to an under-represented audience.

The various Pew studies do a good job of positioning what had been newspaper, magazine and book content as part of an overall media and entertainment decision. Tablets, in particular, are good long-form reading platforms, but they are also ones that offer a range of distractions.

Fostering reading in a digital age may not be harder, but it is different. Maybe we could make do with more librarians.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.