Audience Engagement Guest Columns
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The future of reading (is still reading)

OPINION

9 hours 40 minutes. 

That’s the amount of time we spend consuming media every day, according to eMarketer. That figure gives an indication of just how media-centric our world has become. And how competitive the battle is for the consumer’s time and attention between different media. 

As Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, once observed: “Our biggest enemy is sleep.”

The figure is largely the result of multi-tasking – using more than one medium at the same time. In the UK, Ofcom’s “Digital Day” research looks at how media is consumed across five broad types of activity: WATCHING (39%), READING (19%), LISTENING (19%), COMMUNICATING (19%) and PLAYING (4%).

What is clear is that each activity is not a hermetically sealed box. Magazine brands in particular are spreading out from their core in reading, into videos, events, podcasts, blogs and social sharing. But reading is still the source and anchor point.

How the digital magazine is changing reading

Over the last few years the digital magazine has become more sophisticated, moving from flat, pinch-and-zoom, PDF replicas of print magazines into something much more dynamic and multi-layered. 

At the same time, the consumer has also become more sophisticated. These trends have been tracked for some time by consulting company Mequoda. Year-by-year, their research shows US digital magazines readers wanting more and more things to add to their core product experience: more intuitive search for article topics, embedded video and audio, deep archives of past issues, social sharing, and automatic optimization for different devices, etc. Essentially, reading is being augmented by listening, watching, and communicating. 

However, our own research at Readly also reveals something else – reading is a moment which, left alone from other media types, becomes an intimate experience causing the reader to lose track of time and spend as much as 15 minutes on one single article.

This is what Facebook would call the “aha moment” –  the instant a user understands the true value of a service or product. And ultimately the key to growth. The repeated interruptions of video, audio and social media can affect concentration and end up in a disrupted reading experience. 

The challenge for all media

There have been a number of well-documented trends in media consumption over the last few years: the commencing shift from print into digital, increased on-demand streaming of content, the growth of smartphone usage, the growing desire of consumers to control how and when they access content. 

Organisations need to be quick to adapt to these trends if they want to get embedded in their consumers’ lives. The lock-down experience has contributed with one more insight – publishers need a diverse set of revenue streams and to explore new digital ways to monetize. These days, the newsstand is just a corner of the bigger picture when it comes to distribution and discovery.

So, what does all this mean for the future of reading? 

Firstly, reading itself is changing – adapting to a quickly evolving digital world. Yet it will always have its roots in “deep reading”, which is focused, immersive and engaged way beyond any other media activity, except, perhaps, for gaming.

Secondly, for magazine brands, the “magazine experience” is seeping out beyond reading into watching, listening and communicating. Reading is not turning into these other experiences; nor is it being replaced by them. Instead, they are supplementing and enriching what reading actually is. 

The future of reading is still reading.

Ranj Begley
UK Managing Director and Chief Content Officer, Readly

About: Readly is the new way of reading magazines on tablets and smartphones. The company’s mission is simple: To be on the cutting edge of the digital magazine revolution. Its management team has more than 25 years of experience in the publishing, digital gaming, and broadcasting industries. Readly has its headquarters in Sweden

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