digital trends

Additional thoughts on the shift in digital reading habits

July 23, 2014
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digital trends

Our reading habits are changing quickly

When Betaworks CEO, John Borthwick recently dug into some data on the shifting reading habits, revealing that people are reading less, and they’re reading more. I’ll spare you the lengthy regurgitation and explanation and encourage you to go read it before continuing here.

Borthwick’s thought-provoking editorial inspired me to consider why these reading habits are shifting, because the shift has not yet been identified, despite several theories are floating around. In two or three years, hindsight will be clear, but we currently cannot see the forest for the trees. In that spirit, I’d like to share two of my own theories as to why this shift is underway.

1. We’re at a tipping point

In early 2008 when I joined Twitter, it was still a pretty quiet place. Frequently, people would ask, “did you see that I said [blah blah blah] on Twitter today?” and the answer was usually “yes.” Fast forward a few months, and the answer turned into “maybe,” and then “no,” because as more people joined and the volume increased, it became increasingly impossible to keep up. This is the cycle of any new social network, and the life cycle of any new account holder on any given social network.

Now the same goes for content production and sharing. In the early days, you’d read most links that passed through your Facebook timeline, then you began reading only what interests you, and now it has to be fairly pressing to capture your attention, and you’ve learned to filter out the noise. As social media has gone mainstream, the main component of sharing online content has become part of our attention span’s filters, and we all do it.

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We’re at the tipping point as digital mediums have gone mainstream. Filtering out the noise in your streams is now hardwired into your brain and everyone else’s, thus we’re willing to spend time reading more in-depth articles applicable to our lives.

2. Technology plays a role

Borthwick asserted that the spike in readership at publications like The Atlantic could be because of Instapaper and other reading apps, but acknowledges that the direct correlation has not yet been made.

It is my feeling as an industry insider is that technology has played a tremendous role in this shift in reading habits, not just because everything is available online, but because of how and more importantly, when we digest news, and how we develop content reading habits.

Some people exclusively rely on their social streams to be fed news, some use apps like Instapaper, others rely on email or RSS subscriptions to chosen publications, while others go directly to each site they’ve chosen as their favorite reads. When we read is an important shift to study because more rapid reading is being devoted to sitting in line, but more people are deciding to read lengthy pieces on delay, meaning they’re using boomkarking and reader apps to save interesting stories for later. Our attention is shifting toward and away from content simultaneously because of the technologies and apps we now have.

So what’s next?

Consider the next generation – our 17 year old opens up USA Today every morning, scans the headlines, clicks on a war story, a Kardashian story, picks which of the two she’ll read in entirety, and moves on to Twitter, Snapchat, and sometimes Instagram. She will read that one news story later, but has to do a scan first.

Technology, apps, and our newly hard-wired brains filter out what constitutes noise to us is changing the way we consume content. The field for innovation is wide open, because no publication or delivery method has quite figured out the magic formula for getting 100 percent readership, and there’s always room for improvement. And I for one, am honored to be a part of this shift!

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Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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