Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tracking eyes in print and in online (1)

When April started, a research study of the Poynter Institute, EyeTrack07, was published into the differences between online readers and the readers of printed media. It is a prelude to the Eyetrack07 conference which starts today in St Petersburg, Fla. Normally I am very weary of this kind of studies. I always wonder who was the contractor giving out the assignment for the study and what was compared.

This study is part of a long-term study by the renowned Poynter Institute, a newspaper research instate, which collaborates with its counterpart IFRA in Germany. The long-term study is to find out the differences between print and online and how newspaper editors can improve their print editions and get their online issues more pregnant.

In this case, some 600 testers of various US newspapers co-operated. They were asked to read newspapers for 30 days as well as the related news site. But there was more: two small cameras placed to the right-hand eye of the tester followed what the people read and for how long.

From the test results it became clear that once an online reader had selected a text to read, 77 percent did read it. But readers of a printed quality newspaper read significantly less than online readers: 62 percent. Only 57 percent of tabloid readers read the selected article.
The results are interesting. In general everyone in the newspaper industry believes that short articles are more read than longer articles. Tabloids consist of short articles and are popular with commuters. Yet 57 percent only read an article once they have selected it.

Yet the study also yields questions. With paper a certain selection is made by the editorial staff; in online this is less forceful. Also, online texts are usually shorter than newspaper articles. In Europe we have the phenomenon of teletext, textual news items on television. This service has been one of the longest running digital media in many countries in Europe. In The Netherlands the teletext service started on April 1, 1980 after a test period of almost two years. And it is still popular for news and airport departure and arrival times. The service is now also available on internet in the same text format.

Another question the study throws up is the attitude of the readers: between methodicals en scanners. Methodicals like a medium they can feel. Scanners like to hunt for the headlines. In the end 75 percent of the print readers have a methodical behaviour, while 50 percent of the online readers show methodical behaviour, leaving the other 50 percent to a scanning behaviour. Thus scanners and methodicals read as much text online. So the debate is not over yet.

BTW Did you get this far in the article? Okay, tomorrow I will go into the improvement editors can make in their print and online versions.

Blog Posting Number: 720

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