People used to say no one would ever actually read anything substantial on their cellphones. Back when it seemed normal to hold up an awkwardly large, inky sheet of paper in front of your face, the screens on mobile devices appeared tiny and, frankly, kind of absurd.
My, how the tables have turned.
People are reading on their smartphones, and they are reading a lot. A new Pew study finds high levels of engagement among readers of longer news articles—those that run at least 1,000 words long, by Pew’s definition. (For context, this story clocks in around 600 words long.)
Researchers assessed anonymized data reflecting the behaviors of readers who interacted with nearly 75,000 articles across 30 news websites in September 2015, using metrics provided by the analytics firm Parse.ly. Which means Pew’s findings don’t reflect reader behavior across the entire web; though researchers did get a decent bit of variety—including online-only sites, legacy news sites, niche news sites, general news sites, and so on. They also looked at articles from several categories of coverage: entertainment, science, technology, politics, business, sports, crime, and so on.
All in all, they found cellphone users spend more time on average with longer articles. Which, at first blush, makes intuitive sense. Longer articles are, well, longer. So, sure, people take a longer to read them. But the larger takeaway is that not only are people are reading the news on their phones, they’re more engaged with longer articles. Pew found an average of 123 seconds of interaction time (scrolling, clicking, and presumably reading) for stories longer than 1,000 words compared with 57 seconds for stories shorter than 1,000 words. (Which, okay, even two minutes isn’t a very long time, but we’re talking averages here, and averages include the people who click then immediately stop reading.) “Readers spend about twice the time with long-form news content on their cellphones as with short-form,” Pew said.