Is Mobile First for Community Newspapers in North Carolina?

Explore Data

Facts and Highlights

  • Smartphones


    More than a half of the adult U.S. population own smartphones and three out of five smartphone owners get news on their devices.

  • Newspapers


    The vast majority of surveyed newspaper managers agreed (91%) that mobile presence is important for a modern media organization. The same statement about social media presence elicited less support (80%).

  • Map of NC and neighboring states


    When making decisions about mobile strategy, the top three priorities participating managers highlighted were: costs (56%), staff workload or availability (48%) and ROI (40%). Other notable options included audience-related concerns (13%) and revenue concerns (11%).
  • Newspapers


    The results of manual website evaluation (content analysis) show that 49%, or 82 out of 166, North Carolina newspapers offered some type of mobile product for their readers.

Interactive Chart: Mobile Adoption in North Carolina

The chart shows how many community newspapers in North Carolina are offering mobile products to their customers:

Please note that mobile applications for different platforms (e.g., an iPhone app and an Android app) are considered different mobile products.

Interactive Chart: Mobile Product Availability in North Carolina, by Type

The chart shows what products newspapers in the state offer:

Interactive Chart: Survey Answers in Detail

The chart is based on survey data and shows a detailed breakdown of participants' agreement levels with statements from the survey questionnaire:

Mapped: NC Newspapers Offering Mobile Products

Click the map to explore:

Q&A in Plain English: Newspaper Mobile Adoption

This question and answer session summarizes general concerns and complaints voiced by media executives in surveys, interviews and elsewhere.


Answers might not always be persuasive, and they shouldn't always be: mobile remains a challenging issue for many, so there's no ultimate solution or strategy.


Who is answering these questions? Let's say it's a person with solid experience in technology and mobile industry, who has spent months researching mobile adoption in North Carolina and talked to multiple experts and analysts in the field. The person worked for more than five years at a news website with a daily unique audience of more than half a million users, and was also closely following the process of development and implementation of an Android application for that website.


For thirteen more suggestions, check out the report (Chapter 7).


Should I care about mobile? Why?


It's important and rapidly growing. More than 55% of U.S. adults have smartphones, says Pew Internet Project. Three out of five smartphone owners get news on their devices.


Advertising on mobile in the US is projected to grow nearly fourfold in 2013-2017, significantly outpacing the total market's growth of 15% in that period.


Among your colleagues who took the survey, 90% agreed that mobile presence is important, 67% said they'd recommend that other media executives build mobile products and 64% believed that their mobile products were important to their financial success in the future. In addition, 55% said mobile products were important for customer satisfaction.


While mobile may not be as profitable as the paper is right now, that's where your readers are now and will be tomorrow.


What about advertising on mobile?


This market is small in absolute numbers ($17.96 billion in 2013 globally), but it's more than doubled in 2013. According to eMarketer's Global Media Intelligence report, mobile advertising will grow from $7.7 billion in 2013 to $29 billion (277%) by the end of 2017 in North America alone.


And you know what's happening with print advertising, right?


Perfect! So I can make a lot of money on mobile products?


Unless you're The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, you still cannot sustain your newsroom with mobile revenue. In fact, two thirds of mobile ad revenue currently goes to the pockets of Facebook and Google.


Still, there are multiple opportunities for smaller newspapers. More than half of community newspaper executives who had mobile products said their products were producing revenue, and 37% expect the products to bring in profit in the next two years.


But my readers only read paper! They will never switch.


You're underestimating them. And even if so, what about their kids and grandkids?


Even if they only read paper, they won't have to switch – mobile is not going to replace print for them, at least for some time. So you'll get an additional source of revenue from your loyal print-readers.


"Contrary to what some local newspaper publishing companies might initially believe, the data suggest this is a particular opportunity for growth one not fully taken advantage of by newspaper publishers," a Nielsen study shows.


To remain relevant, you have to offer your readers quality experience on mobile. And you can sell it in a package to advertisers, too (how about a cross-platform package vs standard print packages? you can price them higher).


Yes, mobile is important, but there's no money in there. I'll bail.


That might be a wise decision in some cases. Just make sure you've talked to your readers and your advertisers. Still, it never hurts to set aside a small budget (or some free time) to explore the future opportunities for your newspaper. It may be digital, it may be mobile, it may be something else. But the paper is fading and you know it.


OK, I think I'd like to try mobile, but what should I start with? I have a print newspaper and a crappy website...


You should start with a good, responsive website and then consider creating some apps. And, by the way, how about asking your readers and advertisers about what they're interested in getting from you on mobile?


We don't have people to deal with mobile.


You don't have to have a designated full-time staffer to deal with mobile. If implemented properly (fully integrated into the existing website system), additional staff load will be minimal. However, you'll need digital- and mobile-savvy employees to successfully sell your mobile product to advertisers and clients.


Our website looks fine and current smartphones can show it beautifully. Why worry?


Unless your website is responsive and very advanced, the standard "desktop" version will hardly be convenient for users on mobile device. And people spend more time in apps, not in mobile browsers: a study from BI Intelligence says just that. In 2012 Nielsen found that time spent on mobile apps more than doubled in a year, while mobile web usage remained flat.


Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, the company that controlled 17.5% of global mobile ad market in 2013, has famously expressed his regret in 2012 that Facebook was relying too much on universal HTML5-based websites rather than apps tailored specifically for each mobile platform. "The biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native," he said.


Okay, what is the very-very minimum I should do to stay relevant in the mobile age?


At the very-very minimum, redesign your website to be responsive.


If I want to go beyond that and build an app, what devices I should aim at first?


Ideally, you should strive to offer applications for the two most popular mobile platforms out there, Apple iOS and Google Android. But if you'd like to save budget and just pick one for starters, take a look at your website's statistics (use Google Analytics or embedded tools) and see what the distribution looks like (Android users vs iOS users). Another option would be setting up a poll on your website for a period of time.


In NC, there's a slightly bigger share of iPhone/iPad apps offered by newspapers. However, nationwide, Android has a greater share overall (52%).


How can I save on building an app?


For the first version, limit the feature list. Pick just the most critical features to save on development. Just make sure that your app would actually give users a better experience than just viewing your mobile website in browser.


Consider reaching out to the local college(s) for inexpensive (or even free) talent.


Instead of dealing with local firm, explore the opportunities of outsourcing your project. Freelance websites could help: try Elance, Odesk, Freelancer.com.


However, if you want your mobile operations to be tightly integrated into your existing system, it might be worth it to work with your current website provider. You can also change the whole system altogether.

About / Download the Study Report

The data is based on the analysis of 166 North Carolina newspapers' websites (February 2014) and a survey of 81 newspaper executives in North Carolina (November 2013 - March 2014).

To learn more, check out the full version of the report outlining the current state of affairs with mobile media adoption in North Carolina:

Thinking of developing your digital strategy? Check out the site and the book: