One of the continuing debates at every news organization has been around "old" vs. "new" media. Which is more important? Radio or online? I've heard it for years and it always reminds me of the "Tastes Great, Less Filling" ads of my youth (for those of you born after 1978, look here). In those ads, as some of you may recall, famous sports figures violently agree on the virtues of Miller Lite while bowling or playing poker. It's a fun debate but ultimately pointless — it only really serves to underscore one eternal truth: it doesn't matter WHY you like the beer, it only matters THAT you like the beer.
As goes Miller Lite, so goes the NPR iPhone News App? So, all that pondering over Miller Lite got me to wondering about the NPR iPhone News App. Do people use the app for listening to stories or do they use the app for reading stories? Do users neatly divide into the listening camp and the reading camp or do they switch back and forth? Does one activity preclude the other, or do they feed off of each other?
NPR iPhone News App Users Like the Beer. Okay, some basic numbers: 57% of visitors to the iPhone News App play audio at one point or another and they listen to audio two out of every five visits on average. In the last six months, visits that include audio have grown 70% while all visits have only grown 15%. This growth is due both to the fact that we're adding more audio-listening visitors and that existing listeners are listening to audio more frequently.
And They Like It for Both Reasons. So, big picture, things are looking good for audio on the iPhone app. But here's the truly astounding metric: usually people look at about five pages each time they launch the app. When they're listening to audio, they look at fifty. Five. Zero.* When a visit includes audio, it lasts about five times longer and includes about ten times as many pages as a non-audio visit. This is as true for visitors who sometimes listen to audio (but not during that visit) as it is for visitors who never listen to audio. Even if you account for the extra pages users click on just to get the audio playing, that is still an astounding metric.
And This Means That...? First of all, the iPhone platform itself renders the distinction between "radio" and "online" moot. The actual distinction should be between "audio" and "text" and, as we're learning with the iPhone News App, when you offer an experience that gracefully blends the two with a mobile device, both benefit. So, as far as I'm concerned, we should just drop the whole debate and get back to doing what we do best: bowling and drinking beer.
* CORRECTION: Due to a mislabeled metric in Adobe® Discover™, we incorrectly stated that visits that include audio average ten times more page views than non-audio visits. They average ten times more "occurrences" per visits than non-audio visits but only average two times more page views than non-audio visits.