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Doubts on claim that online users read more

Only yesterday did I catch up with the latest Eyetrack study from the Poynter Institute and I started to write a post about it. I took the quick news reporter in a hurry approach read the key findings and wrote:

The idea that online readers of news have the attention span of a gnat is dubunked by the latest EyeTrack study from the Poynter Institute. They found that a much larger percentage of the text of a story was read online than in print.

The figures, presented to the American Association of Newspaper Editors last week found on average 77% was read online, 62% in broadsheets and 57% in tabloids.

But something was niggling. I stopped writing and pondered. The EyeTrack07 results are surprising and I felt I needed to know more about the methodology and the material used. It seemed to be one of those studies that should be treated guardedly until the results were replicated by other researchers.

What other factors could there be? One small point was my surprise that about 4% of hits on individual Worldblog posts have been on the “print this post” links I added recently. The number has surprised me and suggested a higher proportion of people than I had expected were uncomfortable with reading on screen.

With far more insight, Neil Sanderson had raised a question about the study on Monday, writing:

It would be helpful to know how the online stories compared in length to those in broadsheet and tabloid papers. It is possible that they were shorter, due to the online practice of chunking content – breaking it into more digestible pieces. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of online stories that were longer than their print counterparts. This can happen when a story originating in a newspaper is enhanced and updated for the online edition where space is virtually unlimited.

He also posted his reservations as a comment on the Poynter site and they brought this response from Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the institute:

Good question. During some editing/deeper digging this week, we have found that short stories were more frequent in online and that likely had some influence on the overall result.

However if you back short stories out and analyze results only for medium and long stories, those are read, once selected, as thoroughly online as in print.

In his blog Sanderson comments:

So, rather than saying that online readers read more, Poynter is now saying they read as thoroughly as in print. That’s a big difference.

And describing stories as “medium” or “long” really doesn’t solve the problem. The percentage of each story read ought to be judged against the length (word count) of each story. The story-length issue isn’t just important for comparing online versus print reading patterns, but also for comparing broadsheet versus tabloid.

So it looks as if the Poynter people themselves fell into trap of going for the quick headline and having to pull back later. There is, I think, a lot of importance and value in this new study but it is probably better to wait for the more considered analysis later in the year.

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  1. Poynter misses the point in its online readers study from Greenslade says

    […] sceptical and have raised some questions about methodology that casts doubts on the results.Like me Andrew Grant-Adamson was taken with the claim that a great majority of online readers were more likely than newsprint […]

  2. Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Friday squibs says

    […] Doubts on claim that online users read more. Andrew Grant-Adamson at Wordblog digs into the headline claims from the latest Eyetrack report — that online readers reader more than their print-reading counterparts & mdash; and raises an eyebrow, and some interesting questions. […]

  3. One Man & His Blog says

    Doubts on claim that online users read more

  4. One Man & His Blog says

    Doubts on claim that online users read more