Do online readers really read more?

A few days ago I blogged about the Poynter Institute’s latest EyeTrack study, which claimed that online readers of news stories read more of each story than print edition readers. [online 77%, broadsheet 62%, tabloid 57%]

I found the analysis unconvincing and commented in this blog that there was no comparision provided of typical story lengths. I followed that up with this comment on the Poynter site:

Interesting study. I am wondering how the online stories compared in length to those in broadsheet and tabloid papers.

Perhaps they were shorter, due to the online practice of “chunking” – breaking information 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.

Could story length have affected the amount of each story that was read?

Rick Edmonds, Media Business Analyst at the Poynter Institute, has responded to my comment as follows:

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.

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.

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