Do you want to know how many M&M’s would fit in Pluto? Forgot what the capital of Beirut is? Well, just a few clicks and you’ll know that Pluto fits roughly 10 septillion M&M’s (the ones without peanuts), and remember that Beirut is in fact a city. The internet has enabled humans from all over the world to connect, share and find information, whenever they desire.

With the introduction of the internet and the World Wide Web, many services have moved their business online. An obvious example of this transition is the movement of print media from your neighbourhood kiosk to your browser and your phone. Judging by the speed that technology is advancing, we shouldn’t be surprised if our fridge will read us the daily news by next year. This movement of news, articles and other types of content to the internet has created quite some puzzles for publishers. In 1997, the Nielson Norman group did research into the question “How Users Read on the Web”, with the glamorous conclusion being: They don’t. 

The research showed readers do not read articles word for word, but scan the page and pick out words and sentences. This research is from 1997, and you can probably imagine that the internet has grown tremendously since, and the amount of content and articles online has increased accordingly. If 20 years ago readers could not keep their attention while reading articles, imagine the difficulties in the world of today. 

In order to acquire some insight into how people experience reading online, and how and why they read, we executed a survey. The survey generated 73 responses, with most respondents being between between 18 and 34 years old, with a university education. The questions ranged from multiple-choice to more in depth open questions, to retrieve the most information possible.

Online reading experience

To find the answers we are looking for, we divided the survey into different sub-questions, to find out the “Why”, “What”, and “How” of online reading

To kick off our research, the “Why?”, is an easy but important one. Do you read to stay up to date on current news? Do you want to impress your colleagues with your M&M or geography knowledge at the coffee machine? Or do you never want to look silly again by thinking Beirut is a country?

Our survey showed that a whopping three-quarters of respondents read in order to stay up to date, broaden their horizon and/or to be educated. Only 37% of the respondents read to relax digitally. Maybe reading to relax does not makes much sense anymore when for a couple of euros a month you can watch as much Friends as you want? 

The “What?” ties in nicely to the “Why?”as 75% respondents read daily news, and 55% state that they consume long reads and/or professional content. Luckily, life isn’t all business, and 50% of respondents read about other interests such as sports, cooking or travel. With another quarter reading about other entertainment/gossip related content.

Next up, the “How?”. In current society, everything is connected, and the time your cell phone was only used for calling is long gone. Our mobiles are our connection to the digital reality we now all are part of. Publishers have adopted social media such as Instagram, Twitter and in their distribution networks, and it is clearly working, with 76% of respondents saying they come across content through social media. Other mobile distribution platforms are being used by publishers as well, with 50% of the respondents state they find their reads through a news browser and/or app.

Though three-quarters of our respondents discover reading material through social media, it’s interesting to learn that only a small subset, 18% enjoy this way of interacting with content. The reason for this is that this aggregation of news and content in a clear and manageable way, makes the content feel accessible. Three characteristics respondents seem to like about social media and news apps.

When asking what people’s problems are with finding relevant content, respondents experience being presented with too much, and too often irrelevant content, making the search for the articles you like difficult. The availability of online content has the possibility to make us a lot smarter and more informed, but finding the articles, sources and topics you like has not become easier. 

It’s easy to imagine that only reading and the worldwide accessibility of content have changed the publishing industry quite drastically. Massive amounts of content is distributed on all kinds of platforms, and finding the content you’re interested in can be a bit of a struggle. In addition to this, all your online behaviour is logged to give you relevant articles and advertisements. Before you know it you receive hundreds of articles about Kim Kardashian’s new dog because you once accidentally clicked on just this one article…something similar (I swear it was an accident…)

Nowadays, it’s easy to find out that Beirut is a capital instead of a country, or to realise that you don’t know how many zeros are in a septillion. It is really easy to find some quick entertainment and above all a lot of reading material on social media, but finding the right content at the right time, is difficult and might take longer than the read itself.

Would you like to see the full results of our research? Click here for the free report!