Do People Actually Read Things Anymore?

 This is a serious question.

A colleague and I were working recently on a new data sheet for one of our service offerings. I offered up the usual, a collection of paragraphs, woven together that tell the story (pain points, how we address them, our differentiators, call to action, etc.)  He took one look, frowned, and told me that it contained too many words, that people don’t have time to read anymore. They just want scannable text.

“Bullets are way better”, he said.

I have always resisted this argument, believing the timeless mantra “content is king,” regardless of the medium. Maybe I am old-school,  but in business communications, my view is that  lots of  carefully crafted body copy builds credibility, that you know what you are talking about because you have so much to say about the subject.  Versus a dime-a-dozen PPT slide which any old sales person could create five minutes before the presentation.  How hard is to type out “Generate New Revenue Sources” and leave it at that.

While even though traditional offline copy-intense media such as newspapers are on the wane, online content is ubiquituous. So some people are obviously reading, right?

Two years ago, Steve Jobs predicted Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader would fail, because Americans simply don’t read.

From The New York Times:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

Well, last time I checked Kindle is doing fine.  And people do still read, they just do it online.  Online reading is  different.  Quick and easy online availability has created a generation of scanner-clickers. People are spoiled, because they can click away at any time for something more interesting. Possessing gnat-like attention spans, online readers today become distracted if you ( the content generator) don’t get to the point very quickly.

YouTube hasn’t helped matters. It is so easy to passively watch a video to learn about something rather than reading a book or instructional manual. I admit I am guilty here. I spent a relaxing few minutes recently in front of  YouTube watching How to choose a Parakeet videos rather than clicking through articles. The added value was having video that showed parakeets chirping and hopping around and getting their wing feathers clipped.  

Nevertheless, online content now has become the big enchildada that people are still devouring rapaciously.  According to online content guru Paul McKeon:

The Web, with its widespread availability of information, has taken control away from businesses and put it in the hands of customers or prospects ‑ especially when it comes to marketing. Today’s prospects frequently find you of your their own volition; they anonymously (and voyeuristically) search and research your company or products on the Web — without you even knowing it. The only thing between you and them is your content.

So clearly, like everything else Internet related, there are a million opinions. Clearly content (or copy) plays a significant role in how people learn about and make decisions on almost every aspect of their lives.

Is less more? Or is more less? I say the jury is still out. What do you  think?

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