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Print still in favour with today’s tech generation

The latest findings from the National Readership Survey (NRS) show how print publications remain central to the media repertoire of the most avid technophiles, writes Katherine Page.

By Katherine Page

It is often assumed that reading in print is being abandoned in favour of digital content, particularly by the young. While readership habits and preferences are certainly changing, NRS shows how the most active users of technology and mobile devices remain keen readers of newspapers and magazines.

Since 2009, NRS has tracked the use of new technology, along with detailed questions about internet behaviour. Around 13% of the population have been identified as ‘technophiles’, using four or more of seven items including smart phones, e-book readers, high definition TV, Wi-Fi networks and wireless streaming.

The NRS sample offers a large and reliable base to analyse such developments: 36,000 in-home interviews are conducted each year on a continuous basis. The random sample is particularly well-suited to representing those hard-to-reach demographic groups in the vanguard for new technology. Indeed, it is for this reason that the NRS sample is used to provide the Establishment Survey data for the UK Online Measurement Company (UKOM).

The 6.4 million technophiles identified tend to be young, well-educated and affluent, with a net personal income 36% above the average. They use the internet everyday and consume content across a range of digital platforms, but are also enthusiastic readers of print. They have a repertoire of around 25 different newspapers and magazines, compared to an average of 17, and qualify as ‘average issue readers’ of eight of those publications. In contrast, they are more likely than average to be light consumers of commercial TV and radio. 

Print readers have a particular affinity for mobile technology, which is why it represents both an opportunity and a threat for publishers. One of the strongest trends that the NRS tracked between 2009 and 2010 is the 46% increase in the use of phones and hand-held devices to access the internet, fuelled by the growing ownership of smartphones.

Smartphone users are also above average readers of print. They are particularly drawn to magazines such as Stuff, GQ and The Economist and, from the newspapers, the Financial Times, Independent on Sunday and London Evening Standard.

It is the same story for e-book readers and tablet computers, though these still have a relatively low (but growing) penetration among the population as a whole. NRS has added further questions about these devices, and is also now tracking the use of apps to access publisher content – the first findings will be published shortly.

Most tellingly, NRS findings contradict the myth that the young are doing all their reading online and via mobiles. The 2.3 million technophiles aged 15-24 are ‘average issue readers’ of eight different newspapers and magazines in print, compared to the all-adult average of seven titles. Of course, this is the age-group most likely to be glued to their mobile phones, but even among the heaviest phone users, readership of newspapers and magazines in print is still well above average.

Print readers have always been early adopters, and these new technologies are no exception.