How does the way we interact with print media and the internet differ? That’s something I’ve been considering lately. Traditional publishers currently populate most of their web real estate with content from their print editions.

Traditional wisdom has it that people ‘sit back’ to read and to watch TV, but they ‘sit forward’ when they are online. They are more engaged, typing queries into a search engine, clicking on stuff. If we are talking about the travel sector as an example, they're probably looking for deals or specific types of information rather than wanting to be spirited away to an exotic destination with poetic prose and beautiful imagery.

Following this logic, people often suggest that online content should be shorter, more to the point and more targeted at converting people to purchase than content in print tends to be. Print is a more reflective medium and it’s bigger, so better suited to inspiration and richer description. So you need to take a different approach with your online content and at the least rework stuff created for print quite aggressively before publishing on the net.

As a result, as little as a year or so ago I’d have advocated quite different approaches to creating content for web and for print. I’d have said that simply sticking print edition content online wasn’t likely to work for your business model or your reader/customer. The way people interact with them is just too different.

But I’m not so sure anymore.

I always felt the iPad was a bit of a product extension for the iPhone – “Hey! Why don’t we just make it, like… bigger!” But increasingly I think of all the remarkable products the late Steve Jobs’ will forever be associated with, it’s this one that will be the game- changer. Many of my techno-fan mates who bought an iPad did so I think because it was ‘the next new toy from Apple’. But it’s changing the way we interact with the net - massively. It’s turning the net into a ‘sit back’ medium. The ease of touchscreen interaction – which for the small screen iPhone just felt like an essential just to make it useable - becomes incredibly potent with a larger screen. It makes online content suddenly a much more browseable thing. The ramifications could be huge.

Maybe we need to start thinking about online travel content as being as much about inspiration and reflection as it is about hard detail and conversion. What that actually means right now, I’m not really sure.

What do you think?

Lovely pic by Flickr user: aperturismo

9 thoughts on “How does online travel content differ from print media?

  1. I don't think the demand for inspirational, good-quality, long-form travel writing ever lessened,just that in general people didn't expect to find it online - unless it was something that had also appeared in print.
    Until now, as you say. The iPad - and presumably other tablets - has improved the experience of reading and viewing photos online tremendously, and in many cases is much better than in print.
    I wonder what the major traditional travel publications are planning for tablets. But right now, I'm really intrigued to see the iPad magazine that Gary Arndt of http://everything-everywhere.com is launching soon, and also the new digital magazine by Nellie Huang of http://www.wildjunket.com.
    And then of course there's the big question - will people be willing to pay for these new formats? I think they will.

    1. I completely agree, Annie. I think this is finally the online revenue stream that publishers have been looking for. More so than a big 'one size fits all' paywall.

  2. Interesting rammifications for the future there Jeremy. So it's almost as if you could ge away with *longer* articles if reading through an ipad...

    Wonder it editors in the future will be wanting more 900-1000 word articles rather than round the 500 mark: all things being equal with the quality, the narrative etc At first I thought writers would hate that, but I'm not so sure....

    Must admit have been using Read it Later app (for iphone) for a while now and it's great for longreads too.

    Hope all well

    1. I must try Read It Later... longer articles quite possibly... particularly when you think how people happily use Kindles etc now... but also richer media - video, pics etc too

  3. I was pondering this today after seeing the new beta bbc website :


    Looks very tablet like ?

    There are a number of technology companies like http://onswipe.com/ who make it easy to turn your publications into tablet format.

    No doubt the tablet is also impacting how traditional publishers are able to publish content but also how they can advertise - by opening up new ad formats.

  4. I think there is an element of 'sit back' media for enjoyment, 'sit forward' media to reach a goal.

    People read the travel sections of newspapers with a coffee and croissant for the pleasure of the stories and images.

    When people want to research their holiday, they head to the internet and look for hard facts and positive comments to help them make a choice.

    So the iPad is helping people to regress, to a time when they read about travel for the pleasure of the story.

  5. I don't think that what constitutes good writing has changed. The human brain hasn't evolved in 20 years. What was good then is good now.

    The difference is the economics of what you can publish. Printing tiny tidbits of information on a consistent basis isn't economically feasible in print. Shipping costs and the intractability of print means you have to spend more time editing. I don't think that online means shorter articles so much that online allows for shorter articles.

    Another dirty secret that I know many other bloggers share is that longer posts get more traffic. It is true. Few people are going to share a short paragraph, but many people might share a 1,500 word, well thought out piece.

    I know myself that longer pieces tend to do better.

    To me, the real difference between print and online (at least for web browsers) is layout and design. Print has more flexibility with what you can do on a page. Most blog pages have a very static design and doesn't allow for as much creativity.

    Tablet computers offer the design flexibility of print and it think it is the biggest difference between it and reading on a browser.

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