Why you should ‘timeshift’ your reading

Thursday, January 20th, 2011 @ 9:28 pm | Media, On-line

One of the single biggest changes to my reading habits since I got my smartphone is how I’ve ‘timeshifted’ my reading. Like a lot of people, I surf the internet while I’m at work. In fact, my job would be impossible if I didn’t. But the middle of the day isn’t the best time to read a 10,000 word article from the New York Review of Books or a feature in the Walrus. In the old days, I would’ve bookmarked the article, e-mailed it to myself or marked it off in my RSS reader to read when I got home.

Now, I find myself doing something a little bit different. Using apps like Instapaper or Read It Later, I simply save articles to read later (usually on the commute home). It’s not unlike using your PVR to record your favourite show, or downloading podcasts because you can’t be glued to your radio at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

The National Post’s new apps have integrated timeshifting features and I explain them here.

For media outlets ‘timeshifting’ of reading is something that they’ll have to cope with as more and more users flock to mobile and tablets for their reading. Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton argued that it was one of the key trends to look out for in 2011.

And if Read It Later’s own data is any indication it’s changing consumption patterns dramatically. Pushing people to read on iPads and smartphones and away from reading longer materials at the computer. It may even change the way some journalists write as this article points out.

How would that change the way we write? Well, first of all, someone would have to figure out (through web analytics hopefully) what the general cutoff point is for making the read-it-later action, i.e. how long does an article have to look for someone to want to save it for later.

There are also questions of monetization. Programs like Instapaper and Read It Later often strip out ads and minimizes layouts. So how do sites make money off people who save their articles to read later? Is it an acceptable cost? Remember that TV execs that decried ‘timeshifting’ and PVRs as theft were pretty much ignored by consumers.

Right now, I think most media outlets see Instapaper and Read It Later as being enablers for consumption of content and not as threats. This might change if large numbers of their readers stop reading articles on their site, where ads can be served and their reading, interaction data, etc. can be tracked.

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