The Apple iPad was one of the most popular tech gifts given this year. One expert says it’s changing the way news consumers are getting their information, and newspaper publishers should take note.

Roger Fidler with the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri invented the first e-reader prototype in 1991. Now he’s studying how media tablets are changing the face of news.

Fidler says as news apps become more available, consumers have indicated they’ll likely drop their paid subscriptions to the print edition. He says publishers will need to re-focus their advertising to create revenue. Fidler says the rich, multi-media format in which the ads could be displayed should entice consumers to view them, something publishers will have to convince advertisers is a good thing.

And he says says that iPad users are a demographic advertisers target — well-educated, affluent males between the ages of 35 and 64.

Fidler says major newspapers, like the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and USA Today, already have iPad apps available. He expects regional papers, such as the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Kansas City Star, will make iPad apps available soon.

To help consumers decide which is the best fit for them, he compares seven e-reader models and the Apple iPad media tablet by size, weight, navigation, features, connectivity and cost, and provides information on where to find each model.

“Last year we really only had the Kindle,” Fidler said. “There were announcements of other devices but none were really accessible before Christmas. This year we have a whole array of e-readers and tablets available and the price has dropped dramatically.”

Apple’s iPad is in a category of its own as the first “media tablet.” Fidler says the iPad isn’t a direct competitor to the Kindle and other dedicated readers with electronic paper displays; however, it will likely produce a surge in demand for e-readers from shoppers discouraged by the iPad’s price tag.

For bookworms, Fidler suggests the Kindle’s electronic paper display. He says the Apple iPad is better suited for those who prefer reading digital magazines and newspapers as it provides a more visually rich presentation with its 9.7-inch, full-color, multi-touch screen and instant-on display. Fidler says both e-readers and tablets provide a better experience than reading for leisure or news on a computer or phone screen.

“When you read something on your smartphone or on the web, you’re really just snacking on the news,” Fidler says. “When you read it in print, on your e-reader or a tablet, you’re dining on the news. And that’s a very different type of reading experience.”

To view Fidler’s guide to tablets and e-readers, visit www.rjionline.org/digital-publishing/ereaders/stories/buyers-guide/index.php.

Jessica Machetta reports [Listen, Mp3, 1:18 min.]