January 24, 2014

Are you reading this on your phone?

Reading on Phone

It seemed like everyone was (and still is) talking about our short attention spans and how people only want to read short, concise stories and tweets online. However, a recent article in The Atlantic uncovers some evidence that disproves this theory. If the “short attention span” rumors were true, then why did “Why I Bought a House in Detroit for $500,” a 6,000 word Buzzfeed article, garner more than a million pageviews? On that same note, Wired’s long-form article “How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses,” received more than one million views for an average of five minutes and The New York Times’ “Snowfall” got more than 2.9 million visitors and 3.5 million page views.

Not only are people reading lengthy articles online, they’re sharing them, too. “These stories can also benefit from people’s desire to share quality stories along with Imgur pics and cat videos,” The Atlantic writes. Feature articles offer in-depth research and insight into a story, meaning readers have more to relate to and learn from.

What’s even more interesting is how readers are consuming these lengthy articles. While it may be counterintuitive, studies have shown that U.S. mobile users are happy to watch long shows and movies and read long-form content on their phones. “Why I Bought a House in Detroit for $500” maintained the average tablet user’s attention for 12 minutes, while those reading the article on smart phones spent more than 25 minutes on the page – “a small eternity, in internet time,” writes The Atlantic. It looks like one of our 2014 social media prophecies is already coming true and the move to mobile is affecting more industries than we can count.

Buzzfeed’s founder and CEO, Jonah Peretti, believes people are reading more on their mobile devices not only out of convenience (mobile devices are almost always within arm’s reach), but also because of “that single, tab-less screen–the screen that scrolls with the flick of a finger.” The Atlantic believes Buzzfeed may have found the magic recipe for long-form story success online; a format “devoid of ads and right-rail detritus – a template that presents a single story in the form of a scroll.” With 50 percent of their traffic coming from mobile devices, has Buzzfeed perfected the mobile-ready feature story format just as they perfected the compelling headlines they’re so well known for? The simple, seamless scroll enables continuous reading without interruption, while a phone screen hides any open windows, tabs and banner ads that might otherwise cause distraction on a computer or tablet.

Do you read long articles or watch shows and movies on your mobile device? Have you always done so or is this a new habit? What was the last long-form story you read online?

Brigid Gorham

BIG fish PR is an unconventional agency that helps its clients redefine their industries.