As I spoke at the Georgia Auctioneers Association’s winter meeting recently, a jaw or two dropped when I told them that 11 percent of the population already owned a tablet device. The next day, the Pew Center issued a new update, showing that holiday sales had sent the number of tablet owners zooming to 19 percent.*
I wiped the egg off my face and updated the slide for the next presentation, making a note that tablet growth seems to be one of those rare trends that actually outstrip their hype. Even the most aggressive forecasts appear conservative in hindsight, and those little gadgets are already having a major effect on your ability to reach local bidders for your auctions.
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers and at the people using tablets:
• The highest income consumers are the most likely to own and use tablets. Among higher-income households (those with household income of $75,000 or more), tablet ownership is 36 percent — almost twice the 19 percent of the general public. In fact, tablet ownership rises dramatically along with income.
• The University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism projects that over the next three years, the tablet “will become the primary tool for personal computing needs.”
• Sixty-eight percent of tablet owners spend an hour a day with their tablets, and 38 percent spend two hours or more every day.**
In short, the people with more money to spend at your auctions are adopting tablets faster than anybody else, and they’re spending lots of time with them. You want these people as bidders! But how do you get them? To answer that question, we need to dig a little deeper into the way they’re using the devices.
Good news/bad news: Tablet users are reading more news, but they don’t see ads
Tablet users are spending more time reading the news. One-third say they’re turning to new information sources, and 42 percent say they read in-depth news articles and analysis. They also prefer to read news on their tablets rather than in the paper (or watching it on TV). On the surface, this should be encouraging because advertising in local newspapers has long been a favorite way to reach local bidders.
The bad news is they’re reading it in ways that don’t expose them to most advertising.
To understand this, let’s go “old school” for a moment and think about how we’ve traditionally looked at Internet news on our desktops. Most of us probably started by opening our browsers and going to the website of specific publications or media organizations.
Some favorites might include cnn.com, cbsnews.com and nytimes.com. Locally, that might include the site for your local newspaper and TV stations. At the time, it appeared that we could reach bidders by buying banner ads on these sites, but it never proved as effective as we hoped. People quickly discovered that they could get more news, more quickly, through “aggregator” sites like Google News (news.google.com), which pull together news from thousands of sources. And just like that, the eyeballs disappeared from our expensive banner ads.
That challenge was big enough before, but it’s an even bigger problem on tablets, where users are getting their news more through “apps,” which assemble stories from dozens (or hundreds) of media using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) technology.
Millions of sites (quite possibly including yours) can provide links that allow new items to appear on the user’s tablet. Typically, the user views these using an app such as Google Reader, Flipboard (on iPads), Currents (Android Tablets) or NewsRob. In many cases, they never visit the local paper’s website, much less pick up a paper copy of the publication. They’re getting the news but not the ads.
Getting more creative, more interactive, more hands-on
This means we have to get more creative in how we reach these users. One way is to get with your web designer to make sure your site has RSS feeds to syndicate new material on your website so that potential bidders can subscribe and see when you’ve listed a new sale or posted some company news.
This doesn’t happen automatically. You’ll need to promote use of your feed. Some ideas: 1) E-mail the address to regular bidders; 2) Include a link each time you issue an e-blast; 3) Feature it prominently on your website rather than at the bottom where we all placed our RSS links before they became so important. Use your imagination. It’s worth it.
Obviously, the shortfall in consumers who see our ads means we need to fill the gap. This had already been a growing problem because of the declining readership, and closing, of many newspapers. The University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism predicts that most newspapers will disappear in print form within five years.*** Indeed, the director of Annenberg’s Center for the Digital Future says the only print survivors may well be the very largest national newspapers (e.g., New York Times, Wall Street Journal) and some small local weeklies.
That’s obviously going to require us all to adapt in our ways of reaching a local market. Signs, flyers, networking events and broker participation may take on a new importance.
Ironic, isn’t it, that a key response to this technological revolution will involve doing more things the old-fashioned way.
Carl Carter, APR, is president of NewMediaRules, which provides public relations services, media counseling and brand management services to auction companies throughout the United States. He provides free communications advice through his blog, NewMediaRules.net.
*Pew Internet and American Life Project, Jan. 23, 2012
**AdMob/Google, “Understanding Tablet Device Users,” March 2011
***”Is America at a Digital Turning Point?,” USC Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism, January 2012