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By Thomas Baekdal - September 2021

How 9/11 showed us the media trends we still see today, and let's talk about read-rates

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.

Welcome back to the newsletter. Today, I have two exciting things for you.


How 9/11 showed us the media trends we still see today

Earlier this month, we had the 20th anniversary of 9/11 ... which all of you undoubtedly saw in the (approximately) 16 bazillion news articles that were posted about it.

I didn't pay much attention to the many news articles about it. But I did see how many people, on a very personal level, retold their stories and their remembrance of the attacks.

I too had planned to post something about it. Originally, it wasn't supposed to be anything special, but I had just listed some of the most important media trends that came to light in 2001 and that still define the media today.

However, on the day of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it just felt out of place, and so I postponed it. But the topic is actually quite important. The trends that we saw for the first time back then still have a huge impact today, and they still create problems for the future of the press.

So, I rewrote this topic into a much bigger and far more in-depth article about these trends, what they changed, and how they impact the way people see journalism today.

So take a look at: "9/11 was the first large-scale online news event, and it showed us the trends that we see today".


We need to have a talk about read-rates

One thing I come across on a somewhat regular basis is how my friends in the media are reacting to read-rates. For instance, last week, I noticed several of my media friends retweeting a person who wrote this:

When I worked at NYT, I had access to a plug-in that told me what percentage of readers dropped out of an article, and at what point they stopped reading, and my advice to most of you is that your articles are too long.

I'm deliberately not mentioning the name of the person who tweeted this because this is not about that person. In fact, over the years, all of us have probably said or felt something along these lines (yes, that also includes me).

However, this is entirely the wrong conclusion. Not only is it wrong in that this wouldn't solve the problem. But it's also wrong in defining whether there even is a problem.

You see, what we experience today in the press is not new. It's not even new to the internet. It has been the case for thousands of years, and it's all about location, intent, and foot traffic.

Let me explain by giving three examples:

Imagine that you have a shop in a busy shopping street that thousands of people are visiting every single day.

Now, here are my questions to you:

  1. Of all these people, how many of them are stopping outside your store to glance at the products that you have put out on display?
  2. How many of those then choose to go into your store to look at what else you have?
  3. And then, how many of those actually end up buying something?

You see what I mean? If you look at the picture above and imagine that 1,000 people walk down this street every day, how many transactions do you think that shop on the left ended up having?

The answer is ... not that many. And the reason is that the intent of the people is not to specifically visit that shop. There are a thousand other reasons for them to be on that street, so, even though there is a huge amount of traffic, your share of it is not that high.

Now imagine a different scenario. In this case, we are moving into a sidestreet, away from the busy shopping street. In this street, almost nobody walks by because you are the only shop there.

So, now let me ask you the same questions:

  1. Of the few people who walk down this street, how many of them are going to visit your store?
  2. How many are going inside?
  3. And how many actually buy something?

In this case, the answer is suddenly: Almost all of them .. albeit with a much smaller number overall. The reason being that now people do have a very specific intent, and this intent is almost solely centered around you.

But now let's take the third example. Imagine that we have a motorway/highway service center. So we have a very busy motorway going next to it with thousands of cars every day, and then we have this place.

Again, we ask the same questions:

  1. How many cars actually divert into this service center?
  2. And how many of them end up buying something?

In this case, the answer is mixed. Most of the cars just keep on driving, but of the cars that do drive into the service center, almost all of them do so because they are buying gas, food, coffee, etc, (or to pee).

So think about these three examples, and then think about this quote from Twitter:

When I worked at NYT, I had access to a plug-in that told me what percentage of readers dropped out of an article, and at what point they stopped reading, and my advice to most of you is that your articles are too long.

You see the problem?

The reason why so few people read your articles is not really about the length at all. It's about where people come across you, and what intent they have.

In the first of the above examples, we had a huge amount of traffic, but almost none of it was specific or focused. As a result, their foot traffic to conversion rate is very low. That is exactly what they are describing in the tweet.

If you get a lot of traffic from people from Facebook or other places, that's like a very busy street. And if you then put out 'interesting headlines', some of these thousands of people will click and visit your newspaper. But, because they weren't really there to read that specific news in the first place, only a tiny number will actually end up reading the full article, and an even smaller number will subscribe. And you are not going to get them to convert more by putting less into your stories.

We have seen this so many times. And so what is the answer?

Well, think about the two other examples I gave you. Take the shop in the side street. Its foot traffic is much lower, but the people who do come act in a far more valuable way. Well, that seems to be a better way to focus. If you can grow that, you could end up with a higher rate of conversion overall, even though the number of people seeing your headlines is a lot less.

This works particularly well for any publishers focusing on a niche or centered around a form of solution-journalism.

But then think about the motorway service station example. Here we have a high-traffic environment, but one where the service stations have defined themselves so well that anyone who chooses to go to them does so with a very specific and high value need.

This is what newspapers should focus on. If you have a lot of traffic that doesn't read anything, that is a very clear sign that you have not defined yourself well enough so that when people see you, they also choose to come for a specific reason.

In other words, work on being a specific choice.


This all reminds me, a few months ago, I wrote about two students who tried to redefine how we focus on news. It's well worth a read: What if a news app helped you understand your news reading better?

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.

 
 
 

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé

 

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