Online newspaper articles command more attention than print

Everyone knows that print newspapers are dying (see the links below this post for the latest stat).  However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

In 2009, Columbia Journalism Review found that 88% of newspaper reading time is in print.   Meanwhile in the same year, SEO and journalism blogger Malcolm Coles showed that 6/10 visitors to UK newspaper sites look at just one page.

So, while in terms of raw numbers, the online editions of newspapers far eclipse print, when readers are online they tend to content snack on the odd article instead of staying put.   You could say that’s one argument for the Murdoch or New York Times paywall, its worth having a smaller core of committed readers you can sell to advertisers.

However, against that comes this piece of research from the Poynter Institute (via Eric Tsai) , comparing print and online newspaper attention times.   Eye tracking equipment was used with 582 people in four US cities, reading a mix of broadsheets, tabloids and online newspapers.

The result?  Online participants read the most – on average 77% of an article.    According to Poynter, “this is substantially higher than the amount of story text participants read in broadsheets and tabloids.   Broadsheet participants read an average 62% of stories they selected.   Tabloid participants read an average of 57%.” In fact, online readers read more regardless of length (negating the argument that web articles tend to be shorter).

Why are online readers more committed?  My guess is it comes down to choice.   Though random surfing of news sites does happen, a lot of times you will have a fair idea of what you are looking for before you start browsing.   Indeed, back in September, Pew found that in the US, the number of people who use search to access news sites has tripled since 2004.  In other words, online you read articles by and large because you have chosen to unlike in print where someone else has selected what goes in that day’s paper.

Another finding from the Poynter eye-tracking study worth noting, while print readers focus on the headline and photos first, online readers started with the page navigation before  coming into the site – so, sign posting matters online.   Inforgraphics were however well received, more so than just plain “charts.”   What kind of infographics caught people’s attention?  Weather related ones (ie maps).

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