Tablets and E-Readers Give Hope to Publishers, but Not Broadcasters

iPad tablet e-readerListening to the messianic way publishers talk about the Apple (AAPL) iPad and other tablet reading devices, it's hard not to ascribe some of their enthusiasm to the wishful thinking of people who see their own extinction approaching. But new consumer research to be released today suggests their confidence may, in fact, be grounded in reality.

Conducted by Harrison Group in cooperation with the digital publishing services provider Zinio, the study asked 1,816 adults about their behaviors and attitudes toward tablet computers and other e-reading devices, such as the Amazon (AMZN) Kindle. In a top-line result you're sure to hear quoted often, owners of such devices said they're consuming more newspaper and magazine content than the average -- a great deal more.

Tablet users report dedicating 75% more time to reading newspaper articles than nonowners, and 25% more time reading books, while owners of e-readers spend 50% more time reading newspaper stories and 45% more time reading books.

"Rupert Murdoch is right -- it's a true game-changer," says Jim Taylor, Harrison Group vice chairman, referring to the News Corp. chairman's encomium to the iPad.

Consumers of Content

The good news doesn't stop there. Harrison Group's survey also found that those who own what the study authors refer to as tablet-based technologies -- a designation that includes both the iPad and dedicated e-readers like the Kindle -- are more reconciled to paying for digital news content than the general public. Some 86% of tablet owners and 82% of e-reader owners describe themselves as comfortable being automatically debited for content, compared to 62% overall.

What makes these findings even more noteworthy, says Jeanniey Mullen, Zinio's chief marketing officer, is that the device owners aren't the sorts of trend outliers who typically rush to embrace new technologies. They're neither hardcore techies or serious businesspeople whose work needs drive their consumption. "Early adopters of tablet-based reading are a whole different type of person," says Mullen. "They're much more mainstream. It's someone who just really enjoys content."

"It's about their consumption of content, not their consumption of technology," adds Taylor.

However, the study did turn up findings to give media industry executives indigestion. Offsetting the sharp rise in consumption of newspaper and magazine content is an almost equally marked drop in TV viewing among tablet and e-reader owners. "We're talking about a 25% cut in television consumption right out of the box," says Taylor. It really decouples people from the need for channels, and it clearly reduces the amount of television being consumed. It is a fundamental alternative entertainment medium."

That ought to give Murdoch -- whose News Corp. (NWS) derives the greatest share of its profits from cable TV -- something to think about.

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