Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Newspaper reading study by French consulting firm claims that readers are 'more likely to skim over articles on an iPad'; study compares print to a replica edition

Readership studies centered on the reading habits of iPad owners are just now starting to appear, and executives at cautious, bureaucratic media firms are anxious to get their hands on data that will support their own positions vis-a-vis mobile and tablets.
Miratech, a French consulting firm, released a study a few months ago that claims that "people read articles in a printed newspaper and only skim through them on an iPad."

Using eye tracking technology, Miratech observed the reading habits of print newspaper readers and iPad newspaper readers and compared the comprehension and retention of information. Their conclusion was that "reading on an iPad is more superficial than reading in a printed newspaper."

The findings appear to be explosive and have recently been picked up by some media outlets including US based Editor and Publisher.

Sadly, when looking at Miratech's own videos of the study one immediately understands the problems with the research. The study video shows a study participant reading an edition of 20 Minutes, a French media tabloid which issues a number of regional editions. The readers actions reading the print paper are then compared to the iPad version.

Those involved in media app development will immediately start to see the problems: what kind of app is it? what is the reading environment? Are we comparing two different products in their own native environments or are we comparing apples to oranges?

The iPad version of 20 Minutes appears to be the app developed by Visuamobile – a replica app that is a free download in the App Store. The reader of the iPad version must pinch-to-zoom to read the issue, and depending on the edition chosen, often is faced with blurry text and difficult navigation. The app does offer text version of the articles in the different editions, but the video does not show them using this feature.

So what the study appears to show is that if you compare the reading comprehension of some reading a product that was natively designed (print) it will outperform a product that was not designed specifically for the platform (a replica edition). Not only should the results, see in this way, not be surprising, one should be encouraged that the replica editions did so well.

In face, the study showed that readers spent about the same amount of time reading each article, whether in print or digital.

I don't know if the Miratech study was organized by researchers unfamiliar with the different forms of media applications, though it certainly looks that way. It is also possible that there was more variation in the study than what the videos show – the company's website is very short on information concerning methodology.

What I would like to see is a study that looks at the same information presented in print, replica, natively designed tablet form, mobile form, and PC form. My own guess is that both print and native designed apps would perform well and possibly very similarly. Mobile, PC and replica editions would underperform. This is my own judgement, but I am willing to change my beliefs as soon as I am presented with data from a study that appears to be well designed.

Other studies I have seen have appeared to have been designed to prove a conclusion desired by the sponsoring company. But even those studies appear to show that reading off a PC seems to be the quickest but most shallow, while print and tablet (or eReaders) perform best. But again in these studies I've seen there was no indication of the kind of apps being consumed on the tablet.