Opinion: Newspapers have a bright future with tablets, but digital advertising is an issue

Tablets may be the talk of this week’s World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, but problems remain when it comes to digital ad revenues.

Digital reading is on the rise

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) kicked off the conference in Kiev, Ukraine by publishing the results from its annual World Press Trends study.

The report revealed that over half of the world’s adult population are reading newspapers in some shape or form, with 2.5 billion opting for print and a significant 600 million reading digitally.

Tablets certainly accounted for a significant portion of this digital reading. WAN-IFRA found that six in 10 tablet users say their tablets replace what they get from a newspaper or magazine, while over half of the same tablet owners admitted to consuming news on their slate on a daily basis. Unsurprisingly, 30% of these owners also added that they have spent more time with news since purchasing a tablet.

However, for all the hype over tablet publishing, WAN-IFRA’s report did offer a reality check that a solid business is required for publishers to take advantage of this new platform.

“The facts are hard to dismiss: newspapers are pervasive, they are part of the fabric of our societies. Our industry is stronger than many imagine,” said Larry Kilman, deputy CEO of WAN-IFRA, when presenting the figures at the conference.

“At the same time, newspapers are changing, and must change, if they are to continue fulfilling their traditional role as watchdog, and as the provider of credible news and information that citizens need to make informed decisions in society.

“The problem is not one of audience. We have the audience. The challenge is largely one of business, of finding successful business models for the digital age.”

Digital advertising remains a problem

This problem comes down to advertising, and specifically how publishers can replace declining print revenues with money from digital ads on mobile and tablet devices.

WAN-IFRA puts this problem down to a lack of “intensity” when it comes down to reading on digital devices, and said that tablet readers spend less time with newspapers than they do with print editions.

As a result, advertisers appear less willing to commit revenue dollars to digital ads, with WAN-IFRA’s report showing that just 2.2% of all newspaper advertising dollars having coming from digital in 2011. Print newspaper advertising revenues, meanwhile, are said to have fallen from $128 billion in 2007 to $76 billion last year.

Tablet readers are happy to pay for content, but want “Flipboard” style

Elsewhere at the World Editor’s Forum, and attendees were lapping up some advice on what they should do when pushing out new tablet publications. This guidance came from Mario Garcia, an American newspaper and magazine designer, and also the founder of Garcia Media.

Garcia revealed that tablet readers are happy to pay for news, but urged publishers to consider that the peak tablet reading time is between 7pm and 11pm, and that this reading is often a dual-screen experience with the TV.

Garcia, who has redesigned large newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer in the past, urged publishers to make “something happen” with their tablet newspapers. The designer also referred to an upcoming Poynter study which reportedly reveals people like the “Flipboard” style of flipping pages, and perusing through photo galleries and videos.

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.