Paper beats digital for browsing

Screen or page with your coffee?

Screen or page with your coffee?

I had an interesting conversation the other day about why the print press continues to be popular, despite the proliferation of online feeds and sites.

Whatever my favourites (in my case, Red magazine, The Times and the Metro) do to enhance their user interface and search capacity, I still like to read them on paper.

That said, I do also use their online versions. And they all do their best to make them more navigable and searchable with successive upgrades.

It depends on the situation. Online news is terrific when I just want the headlines. Little and often – say at my desk first thing in the morning. On my mobile in a short gap between meetings or journeys. Online is brilliantly convenient when I want to find the latest article by a particular writer. Or to inform myself on a specific subject from one or more sources.

What it’s not so good for is showing me things I didn’t know I wanted to know about. It’s only when I occasionally pick up Red magazine at the station before a rail journey or indulge in The Times on a Saturday morning at the breakfast table, that I pause to read features and items that aren’t within my currently established field of interest. As my eye travels over the page in a relaxed situation, it’s easy to skim through or to take a closer look at headers or pictures that pique my curiosity.

That’s the value of print materials. Specially if you already know you like and trust the media or source, they provide you with new content in an unforced way. Content that otherwise you’d never have sought nor engaged with.

Online media will certainly become ever more responsive to this need, with suggestions for articles that might interest you and clever visual presentation of side content. But for now at least, the technology is all about making logical associations. On paper, it’s possible for random, unsolicited, unlikely content to attract me when I’m reading or passing by. That’s what keeps me buying at the newsstand, even though it means paying for, carrying and physically flipping over all those unwieldy pages.

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