Online Reading vs. Print Reading

Online Reading vs Print Reading Study

A new study from the University of Houston shows that those reading print publications remember more than online readers. The new research echoes similar findings concerning digital versus print advertisements, and adds new theories into just why print reading leads to better retention than online reading.

“All the News That’s Fit to Print

The study examined two groups of college students – the first read the print edition of the New York Times for 20 minutes; the second group read the digital edition of the same day’s paper for the same amount of time. Each group had been asked to undergo a news blackout prior to the study.

After the 20 minute reading session, the participants were asked to note as much as they could remember about what they had read, including headlines, main points and general topics of articles. The groups were not informed of this task before they began reading.

The group that read the print edition of the paper remembered an average of 4.24 news stories, while the online readers remembered an average of 3.35 stories.

“As the U.S. public gets its news more from online newspapers and less from print, new questions have arisen about the differences of both reading experiences,” said Arthur D. Santana, an assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at the University of Houston and principal investigator of the study.

“In essence, print newspapers are a more effective medium than online newspapers at spurring recollection,” he continued.

Print Reading is More Effective than Online Reading

The study also looks into why print readers tend to retain more than digital readers. Santana also makes some points on the broader implications of the report’s findings. Particularly interesting is the implication that we don’t remember as much of what we read online simply because we don’t have to remember it.

“The knowledge that the information they can find online, even if it disappears after reading, is immediately electronically archived and thus imminently retrievable may make readers less apt to feel they need to store it in their memory,” said Santana.

On the other hand, when reading print we typically are focused directly on what is before us.

“The nature of the Web as a medium that has subsumed virtually all others makes it a site for a variety of uses, including commerce, communication, gaming, and of course, news,” Santana said. “The print newspaper, however, is generally dedicated mostly to news, thus in choosing a particular medium, users bring preformed attitudes about what to expect.”

How Is This Translating to the Real World?

While the study focuses on the differences between these two readership groups, another new study released at roughly the same time illustrates how news media is beginning to look at its audience without a divide between print and online.

In fact, the announcement of the first Magazine Media 360 Report from the MPA- Association of Magazine Media was nearly as notable for how it reported magazine readership information as what it reported. While previous reports from the association reported print advertising revenue, page numbers and circulation, the new report focuses on all current magazine data, including mobile traffic, web traffic, video views and print and digital editions. A coming metric also will look at social media data for titles.

The change comes as the MPA attempts to move away from the falling traditional measurements from print from the past few years. But the move is not an attempt to hide those numbers; instead, it offers a better representation of how the magazine industry functions today.

Of course, as a printing company we want to see print circulation explode to higher levels than it ever has been, but realize that we live in a world where digital must co-exist with print, and we know the future of the industry is print material working in conjunction with digital, not in competition.

Therefore it’s with glad and optimistic eyes we see the Magazine Media 360 report finding the consumer demand for magazine media has increased 10 percent from 2013 to 2014. The primary driver of growth is a 98 percent rise in mobile web views, and the study finds print and digital editions essentially holding steady with 2.1 percent growth over the year (print and digital are not separated in the report).

This hold steady pattern is inline with print ad spending, which has leveled off after a (highly publicized) period of decline. Industry experts see businesses and publishers recognizing the areas where print is still important and incorporating print and digital together into their larger sales and marketing plans.

Combining Print & Digital Strategies

What this means is that publications and businesses should not necessarily view the University of Houston study as a reason to focus on print, but instead as a way to decide what items will perform better in print and which will work better online. Of course, there will be some overlap and these trends will continue to be ironed out in the future. The University of Houston study shows that print remains extremely important, while the MPA report suggests that print activities must be combined with digital efforts to be most effective.

Image source: Flickr