Thursday, December 22, 2011

To turn or not to turn

A colleague informs me that 98% of people who are reading a story on the New York Times on-line version do not "turn the page" when the story jumps to a second page.  If that is the case, it presents a crystal clear rationale for redesigning the website, taking advantage of the flexibility one has in graphic design to make it more likely that people will read more of the high quality content that The Times offers.

Let's do a little crowdsourcing here.  How would you design the web version of the newspaper to encourage and enable subscribers to read more of these stories?

My simple answer, although I don't know if it is technically possible, is to have the story automatically expand as it senses your cursor reaching the last paragraph on the first page.


Brian said...

How about having stories automatically display as single page? Readers can select this display option for multi-page articles, so it seems like The New York Times could also make this the default if the percentage of readers who turn the page is so low.

Anonymous said...

My question would be, are they not turning the page simply out of short attention spans or lack of interest, instead of poor page design?
One would have to use print readers as a control group, which would of course be difficult.
Maybe these people are just skimmers, which I fear comprises most of society these days.


@HSJeditor said...

From Twitter:

1 reason Murdoch thinks tablet computers will save papers (turning page intuitive). No UK paper uses multiple pgs for 1 story.

@skins96 said...

From Twitter:

Yes. Readers can be slightly lazy. We have to convince them to do otherwise.

Hospitals Jobs Online said...

Why don't we just make stories shorter, or more concise? Then you wouldn't miss any content/readers via page turns.

e-Patient Dave said...

This is a long-standing, well-known subject in publishing (where "publishing" is "putting out any content in the hope people will consume it"). Hardly anyone reads anything to the end anymore; hardly anyone watches YouTubes to the end if they're more than 2-3 minutes; etc. So authors delude themselves if they think readers will pursue the full length of a long and pondery piece.

Attention spans are shorter today. It's invaluable to know which things earn more than One Moment of attention - as signified by people clicking Read More.

Example: YouTube tells you how many times a video was STARTED, but they closely guard the data on "completes."

IMO this is a significant drawback of Blogspot as a blogging platform: the last I checked, they had no ability to insert a "more" / "jump" break. WordPress sites like do allow that. Obviously that allows more story starts on the home page, but less obviously it lets you track which "more" links got clicked, and how many.

(Warning: that answer can be reaalllly humbling. :-))

e-Patient Dave said...

One more thing - this is no different from the age-old observation in layout that it's much much better to be "above the fold" or on page 1, because things get read much much more if they can be seen with zero effort on the reader's part.

This same issue - the process of grabbing a bit of attention and having it grow in split-seconds into actual interest - is at the core of the science (yes science) of Google ads. Google has a well developed body of knowledge about that process, and long story short, it's a Big Honkin Blessed Event every time you get a reader to take ANY action, even the simplest click.

(I got a national award for this in 2008 so I know a bit about it... not to toot the horn but to say: "No, really. This is real.")