Marco Arment on Pagination Inflation

If I was to ask each of you to raise your hand if you hate it when newspaper websites spread stories over multiple pages, I imagine that I’d see a see most of your hands in the air. Perhaps newspapers have never asked their audience questions like this, or they know the answer and choose to ignore it?

Regardless, we know that newspapers love coming up with tricks to inflate the number of pages you have to view in order to read a single story. It’s gotten so bad that savvy web users have taken to clicking the Print version of newspaper site’s stories in order to find a less offensive version of the story to read. However, newspapers such as the StarTribune have reacted to that by creating nearly unusable and ad-laden print versions of their stories.

This game of reader abuse has gone on for quite some time, with what I’d consider to be mixed results. Sure, the newspapers may have figured out a way to increase their page views per visitor, but they may also be driving away some of their most loyal readers as they become fed up with jumping through more and more hoops with no additional benefits.

Marco Arment took on this issue over the weekend and really hit the nail on the head: The biggest problem with pagination inflation is that you’re punishing your most engaged readers:

But it doesn’t really work as well as you had hoped because only a tiny percentage of viewers will actually read page two. You know that, but you don’t care, because you won’t give up a chance to make a few extra cents. Who cares if it annoys the crap out of that tiny slice of your audience? Who are they, anyway? The people who actually read your content thoroughly instead of skimming the headline and moving on? That can’t possibly be your most important audience segment — they’re just the most involved and attentive. Repeat customers. You already have their “eyeballs” that you can sell to your real customers. And these dupes get their eyeballs double-counted. What a steal!

Given enough time, I’m sure newspapers can figure out a way to turn off all of their regulars. At that point, they’ll be left with only pass-through traffic that carries much less value to advertisers since it’s the furthest thing from engaged or loyal.

More civil ways of treating visitors can be seen on sites like Facebook and Twitter where people can scroll through a virtually unlimited number of stories without having to click to a second page. It’s no wonder that sites like that are capturing more and more of people’s time. Why spend time jumping through abusive hoops set by newspaper sites when you can enjoy the time you spend on the web over at Facebook, on blogs, or Twittering?

6 thoughts on “Marco Arment on Pagination Inflation”

  1. Pingback: No Page Inflation Here — Secrets of the City — Minneapolis + St. Paul
  2. And given how abusive Facebook is to its users, the fact that it’s not as abusive as the Strib really says something.

  3. I never liked the old style print scheme of breaking up articles into fractions, and I certainly have learned to hate it online where the old excuse of print limitations no longer exist. Ultimately this explains why old businesses tend to lose in the innovation game, because they refuse to change their old school methods EVEN when they change platforms…thus the old saying about automating the cow path.

    Anyhow, I left the Strib behind years ago and don’t miss it. What came to mind only after I left was how very little unique content exists in their entire weekly paper. I would say next to nothing, but would that demean their breathless coverage of … insert example of current mindless of the day here.

  4. The real page view inflation trick is their automatic reloading of the front-page. If you leave your browser open it keeps reloading periodically, which sound like a convenience feature until you realize it’s why the strib keeps winning national awards for “longest average reader time spent on site for a regional news paper”: when you go to lunch with the Strib in a window you show up in the statistics as someone who was actively engaged for an hour.

    From the source:
    var reloadTimer = setTimeout(function(){window.location.reload(false);},600000);

  5. @Ry4an, agreed on the pain of refreshing. At least humans see the ads in pagination situations unlike auto-refresh where someone could die with their computer on and run up tons and tons of ad impressions before their body is discovered.

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