Measuring the time-shifted reader: How do people use read-later apps?

For the past decade, we’ve watched the TV industry and its accompanying measurement and ratings apparatus struggle with time-shifting, the once-new, now-dominant viewing paradigm shift enabled by DVRs.

Well, time-shifting isn’t just for TV anymore folks. With apps like Pocket, time-shifting is happening with online reading, and while the phrase itself, time-shifting, is a bit of a force-fit for something that used to be called bookmarking, there’s no doubt that read-it-later apps are beginning to have a big impact, albeit a fairly hard to measure and understand one.

Well, thankfully the folks over at Pocket – one of the big read-it-later apps in addition to Instapaper, have been keeping track. In an interesting piece over at Fast Company, the CEO of Pocket, Nate Weiner, details some of the specifics.

One interesting data point is that while long-reads are only a fraction of total articles saved to Pocket – 13% – the engagement around long-form is significantly higher.

According to Weiner (from Fast Company):

“Engagement around articles is heavily weighted towards longer form and higher quality content,” says Weiner. Metrics of “engagement” vary, but include: the likelihood of a user actually opening a piece, how often they open it, whether an item is shared, whether it’s favorited, and whether it was read through to completion or abandoned mid-scroll. Some articles become so vibrant in Pocket that they result in a share almost every time they’re opened; Weiner calls such stories “Pocket-viral.”

So meaty, deep reads are being shared, favorited, read-to-completion more than other light and fluffy stuff. Good to know and perhaps an indication of why there’s been an explosion in long-form content by pretty much every digital publisher out there.

Another interesting datapoint from the piece is the shelf-life of a given read. According to Weiner, a recent popular post had a lifespan of 37 days. Now, I think the Fast Company piece headline was a bit misleading and overall it’s a bit of a stretch to extrapolate from a sample size of exactly one, but it is still interesting nonetheless.

What is perhaps most interesting to me about this piece was the very possibility of accessing deep data sets from the read-it-later apps like Pocket and Instapaper. Much like TiVo eventually realized how it could possibly monetize its rich data, it’s possible that low-cost read-it-later apps have found a new way to monetize in what are highly competitive and price-pressured days for apps in general, and publishers can now potentially gain a better understanding of how their articles are consumed over time.