Even professionals read on mobile: two case studies

Last week I gave a talk to the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) conference in London about how to create and edit digital magazines for mobile readers.

I am often told by business publishers that their customers will not read their professional publications on mobile phones – period. This is partly because they assume that these readers are typically middle-aged and conservative, and only kids read on mobile phones. Secondly, if it is to do with work, it makes sense that they will only read work-related content at their desks during the working day.

I looked at data from two professional publications to see what the reading habits of business people were when they had a choice of a desktop or mobile edition.

Is mobile really important?

A good starting point is to look at the wider trend. You can see the full slides below where I referenced some recent presentations by Benedict Evans on mobile habits.

In a nutshell, there are more smart phones in the world than PC’s, and they get replaced more frequently. The proliferation of smartphones is not just a Western world phenomenon: by 2020, 80% of adults on earth will own one.

In many parts of the world, people will never have a computer, but they will have a smartphone and access to 3G. By 2019, more than 60% of sub-Saharan Africa is predicted to be under 3G coverage.

This is also a generational trend. UK OFCOM data shows that whilst UK adults manage half of their communicate via email and phone calls these are insignificant for 11-15 year olds. 95% of their communication is through social networks and messaging apps. 79% of Facebook’s traffic now comes from mobile phones. It seems that email is now for grandparents.

Do business professionals have smartphones?

Almost all middle-aged business people have smartphones, and using them fanatically is not just restricted to their kids. The ‘Crackberry’ generation hasn’t disappeared: it’s simply become more widespread.

Looking across Page Lizard’s B2B and Professional Membership clients as a whole, we see that 53% of all of the readers of digital editions are on a smartphone, and of those, 57% are using an Android device.

I presented two anonymous B2B client case studies to compare how the reading habits of two sets of serious, professional readers compared. In both cases, their subscription to the professional magazine allowed them access to a desktop version of the replica magazine, and to an app for tablet and mobile, which offered them an HTML reading experience as well as the option to flip to a replica magazine if they preferred.

Publisher one

The readers of the first publisher’s titles are certainly in a conservative industry; they are powerful decision makers buying access to high-value content, and I would guess are predominantly male.

They came in slightly greater numbers to the desktop replica version in the sample period I defined: 966 of them as opposed to 866 to the app version.

The 966 desktop readers generated 1752 sessions, with an average reading time per session of 5 minutes 48 seconds, or 15.45 pages.

The 866 mobile readers generated more sessions, 1934 because they came back more frequently. They also read more pages  – an average of 19.44, which pushed up the number of page views generated from 27,000 on desktop to 37,000 on app edition.

But most interestingly, the average session duration of the mobile reader was nearly two minutes longer than the desktop reader at 7 minutes 20 seconds. Although 46% of the app readers were on smartphones, they were clearly more immersed in their publication.

Publisher two

The second B2B case study was even more emphatic.  Although these professionals are office-based and have access to PCs, only 2,000 sessions were on the desktop.

That version had a remarkably short average dwell time – only 3 minutes 28 seconds. One feature of the desktop version is the inbuilt archive, and I wonder if the short dwell time indicates that rather than using it to read the magazine, they were dipping in for bits of content.

The app version is a different story, attracting twice the number of readers and generating four times the number of sessions. Here, the average dwell time was 8 minutes and 38 seconds, and they read an average of 21 pages per session.

Daytime versus evening reading

More interesting behavior patterns emerged when we looked at what time of day these readers accessed the desktop and mobile versions.

The desktop version was not touched before 8am, and then had peaks at lunchtime and 4-5pm, presumably as attention wandered towards the end of the day. It was pretty much dead from 6pm, with only a small blip at 8pm.

The mobile version started to come to life at 4am, and peaked through the morning commute to 8am. There was reasonable traffic on it through the day, but the big reading time started to take off from 4pm, with the most popular time being between 6pm and 8pm.

Thereafter it gradually tailed off, but plenty of people were still reading late in the evening and the number of readers at midnight still exceeded the daytime peak on the desktop version.

Lessons for publishers

In general, I have always advised clients that the desktop version will be used sparingly for readers to dip in to the back-issues and archive. I think of it as an online resource to access, grab an article, send it onto your team and move on.

The app version, in my experience, is where the sit-back reading is done and you can expect up to six times the number of pages to be read.   These figures bear out that trend but what they further indicate to me is that no hard lines should be drawn in the presumption of what even conservative business people will do if you offer them a truly readable version of their publication via a mobile app.

A truly readable version means an HTML version, and not a PDF replica. But that’s another subject.

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