Many of the publications I read have never existed anywhere but online. They can be terrific. Others have a physical equivalent. And still others used to be available in paper but are now exclusively digital. How does the way we consume media affect our reading habits?

That’s a big question as various newspapers and magazines transition from print to an online-only model.

A recent study published in Journalism Practice looked at what happened when the British magazine NME (aka New Musical Express) abandoned print in March 2018.

At the time, circulation was near an all-time high. The research showed that net readership increased in the year following the end of the print run. But that’s only one sign of engagement. The time that people actually spent with NME plunged by 72%. Readers transferred over, but not attention.

Other studies note similar findings. One looked at the consumption of eight U.K. national newspapers among readers in the 18-34 age range. The print readers in that group spent an average of 23 minutes a day reading each weekday issue. In contrast, the online readers spent 43 seconds a day with the same titles. Yes, seconds.

It’s no news that we read (or scan) differently online, given the nature of the medium. The relationship between the tactile print experience and the investment of time is also well documented. Just makes you wonder, however, what legacy media brands are giving up when they ditch print. Is comprehension the same? Enjoyment? Loyalty?

This isn’t about nostalgia for print. I spend a good chunk of my waking hours staring at one screen or another. I recognize that the online world can offer a visual experience that’s engaging in a different way.

I like to think that I linger over online news. Often, I do. Still, I’m mindful that the three newsletters I open on my phone every morning have estimated reading times. That does sometimes influence my decision to read. Surely, I can devote, say, four minutes to a dozen news chunks.

So I do. And the stories pass before my eyes. Yet it bugs me to see that counter highlighted, as if the time quantity is the determining factor of an item’s worth.

I also wonder what’s happening in our brains when we read online vs. print. I’ll get to that in an upcoming blog. If you have more than a handful of seconds to spare.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

November 20, 2019

Share This