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Why Many People No Longer Read Digital Text

Internet users do not always read text on their screens. A few studies have been done on the topic and found that people prefer visual content,  photos, and videos rather than blog posts and articles.

The Lost Art of Reading in the Internet Age

Back in 2013, Slate, an online publication, investigated how their audience interacts with their stories. They found that most people only reach 50 percent of the page. Only a small percentage of those who started reading the content managed to make it to the end. A significant portion of online traffic visits the website and then immediately exits without going beyond the very top of the page.

Moreover, about 5 percent of those who visit the web page are engaged in some other way. The user usually has the page on a foreground tab and moves the mouse pointer around, but never really scroll down the page.

The same is happening across the web. The audience of some websites reaches 60 percent of the content before they exit. However, up to 10 percent do not scroll down.

The findings have negative implications. Not only do people miss out on awesome — and free — content online, they also may not receive the full information. Those who only read until halfway are not getting the entire story. Those who do not scroll down see the title.

Worse, a significant number of people share these articles on social media without reading them thoroughly.

The seeming disinterest of the public for text is present in other parts of the web, too. One recent study found that the majority of internet users (59 percent) believe that visual information is more important than textual details.

In e-commerce, shoppers are more likely to make a purchase based on visual information, through photos and videos, rather than the written product description. Shoppers voted that visual information is more important in most categories, including fashion, but not in electronics and household goods.

It is important, therefore, for brands and for publications to pay attention to the visual aspect of their respective online platforms. Hiring a reliable creative design agency will ensure that the website will grab the attention of the audience, and maintain it long enough to communicate the message.

But, why did the audience lose interest in reading digital content in the first place?

Electronic Devices Contain Endless Distractions

The medium with which people go online to access different forms of content is itself a problem. Devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops are filled with an almost limitless number of activities that you can do that it becomes a challenge to fully immerse yourself in just one.

Reading on devices that are connected to the internet or come loaded with games will be almost impossible. One previous survey found that about 90 percent of students are multitasking when they read digital content. Only 1 percent says that they will multitask while reading content on a piece of paper.

Always Looking Forward to What is Next

A printed book asks the reader for one action: to read. A web page, on the other hand, wants you to do more.

It is far more difficult to focus on a long-form article because it asks the audience to click another link to read supplementing content. Hypertexts, although helpful, encourage skimming. The audience does not have to finish the story before being recommended another article to read. It happens in the middle of the text. So, instead of being fully immersed, the reader skims the rest of the article and jumps to another web page to do the same thing.

On average, an internet user spends about 18 seconds on a web page, rarely enough to read a 700-word article and take in the message it conveys.

Readers Prefer a Physical Copy

Most people simply prefer to read text when it is printed on paper. While digital content is accessible anywhere and anytime, it hardly provides the same experience as reading a physical copy of a book or a magazine.

One advantage of hardcopy is the textile experience. Reading is a multi-sensory activity that makes use of sight and touch. So, when content shifted from paper to screen, something changed in how people absorb information.

Moreover, because web pages do not usually break down content into different pages, the reader finds it more challenging to get a sense of where they are in the article. Experts explain that having a good spatial representation text can lead to improvements in reading comprehension.

Back in the day, the primary source of entertainment of the public was reading books. Nowadays, people have more options. However, that has influenced how people consume content, especially text. These findings should help publishers and marketers to develop strategies to keep the audience engaged.

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