A new study by Pew Research found that Americans are reading more long news articles on their phones than ever before. As smartphones improve their capabilities, their owners increasingly use them to access and read lengthy news articles, a phenomenon once considered unlikely. It turns out that attention spans can last longer than a few seconds, and online readers can stick with a long article until the end. Smartphones have whetted Americans’ appetite for meaty news articles.
Pew found that news articles longer than one thousand words hold smartphone readers’ attention for a lengthier period of time than short news articles. People are more engaged with the longer articles: they scroll, click through, and read for an average of 123 seconds per long article. In contrast, they remain engaged for an average of fifty-seven seconds in shorter stories. Furthermore, this phenomenon exists at all levels of article length. As word count rises, time engaged in the article rises concordantly. Stories that are longer than five thousand words hold readers’ attention for 270 seconds. At the other end of the spectrum, stories under 250 words draw only forty-three seconds of engagement time from readers, on average.
Pew pinpointed some interesting statistics about readers. People spend the longest amount of time reading an article late at night and on weekend mornings. Those who access articles via Twitter links spend more time engaging with articles than those directed to articles via Facebook. The subjects that hold readers’ attention the longest are crime and world news.
This is good news for digital publishing companies that depend on advertising revenue because attracting advertisers depends on length of time readers spend on their sites. Publishing longer articles seems to do the trick.
A look back at past statistics about reading online shows just how much mobile devices have changed the online experience. As recently as 2013, researchers were bemoaning the state of online reading, where few people scrolled down past the first few paragraphs. That year, Chartbeat, a traffic analysis firm, found that most people scroll down to the 50 percent mark before they abort reading an article. In fact, most people at that time appeared to skim articles and then share them without bothering to read the entire piece.
By 2014, online readers had begun to hunker down and pay attention to content. An article in the Atlantic enthused about the million page views a Buzzfeed story had scored. Noting that 47 percent of readers accessed the story on mobile devices, the article described how people reading the piece on phones spent more than double the time engaged with the story than those who read on tablets.
Either due to their expanded screen size, or to their ever-growing ubiquity, smartphones are pulling in readers. No doubt, smartphones lend a level of intimacy that makes online reading seem natural, so people are comfortable engaging with the content they deliver.