Nearly half of all American adults (47%) say they get at least some local news and information on their cell phone or tablet computer, according to a new study. But mobile applications are not yet playing a major part in that consumption -- only one in 10 use apps for local news and only 1% pay for those apps.
When it comes to the type of local content people are looking for, it's typically practical and real-time: 42% of mobile users get weather updates and 37% get material about restaurants or other local businesses on their phones or tablets. Fewer get news about local traffic and transportation, general news alerts or other local topics.
The findings come from a survey of 2,251 conducted in January by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism, in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
"Many news organizations are looking to mobile platforms -- in particular mobile apps -- to provide new ways to generate subscriber and advertising revenues in local markets," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project. "The survey suggests there is a long way to go before that happens."
It's not necessarily for lack of trying.
At last month's unveiling of The Daily -- News Corp.'s ambitious iPad-only newspaper -- Apple executive Eddy Cue noted that the company's App Store already offered some 9,000 news apps.
As highlighted by The Daily, the iPad and other tablets have also been heralded as potential saviors for the print newspaper and magazine businesses. The Pew report noted that tablets have become one of the most quickly adopted consumer goods of recent times, almost doubling penetration to 7% in just four months' time.
"It will be fascinating to see whether people will pay for content online, but for now, it hasn't happened," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. As is, not many people pay for news online. And only 36% pay for local news from any source: 33% get a local newspaper subscription, while just 5% pay for local news in another form, such as a blog or other online venue. (There is some overlap among paid news sources.)
One big question is whether people will pay for online content if local media is imperiled. Pressed on the value of online access to their local newspaper, 23% said they would pay $5 a month for full access. Only 18% would pay $10 a month, although that's more than triple the 5% who currently pay for online local news. Roughly three-quarters wouldn't pay any amount, the study found.
Furthermore, nearly 70% say the loss of a local paper would have a minor impact -- or no impact -- on their ability to keep up with local information. However, one promising nugget Pew gleaned is that people who get local news on mobile devices are almost twice as likely as other adults to pay for online access to their local paper.
Overall, people who currently pay for local news in some form skew white, female and older, with higher household incomes and education levels. They're also more likely to be longtime community residents and live in suburban or rural areas than cities.
This research is part of a larger study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the State of the News Media 2011 released on Monday.