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Breaking News Is the Top Reason for Mobile News App Usage

Less than one-third of consumers pay for a smartphone or tablet news app

Less than four in 10 US consumers use mobile news apps, but those who do are likely keeping them on hand to stay up to date with unexpected events.

In a December 2013 study by StepLeader, 42% of US mobile news app users said that breaking news was the most important news app category. This was the top response by a long shot—just 18% of respondents cited second-place national news—and it makes sense when one considers that mobile devices allow users to keep up with the latest news whenever and wherever they go.

But getting breaking news via smartphone apps was far more popular than on tablets, likely due to the former being more portable. More than four in 10 respondents said they used smartphone apps to get breaking news alerts, compared with just 20.0% who said the same for tablets. Instead, the larger screens were more common for reading news content—likely in a more relaxed setting—with more than half of tablet news app users saying they did so, vs. less than one-third of smartphone users.

Some consumers may be using news apps, but that doesn’t mean they’re paying for them. According to February 2014 polling by the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago, just one-quarter of US consumers said that they currently paid for at least one news subscription. And those who did pay weren’t typically doing so for mobile apps. While around two-thirds subscribed to print newspapers, less than one-third paid for a tablet or smartphone news app.

StepLeader found that this wasn’t likely to change anytime soon. Nearly three-quarters of news app users said they would not be willing to pay for exclusive content on such apps, while just 6.7% would do so. The top reason? “News is free today and should be free on an app,” according to 46% of respondents.

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