Print Is Dead, but Content Is Still King


The Independent has become the first national newspaper to ditch the print and declare that the future is well and truly digital. And thus, it seems, print is dead. Despite aptly setting the tone for 2016 and beyond, The Independent’s announcement has been somewhat unsettling to the ears of marketers and PR professionals alike.

Online marketing content is free to produce, flexible in nature, and – if done right – has the capacity to reach an audience of unbridled scope. However, the proliferation of online marketing content has led to an extremely saturated digital space.

Avoiding the Path of Least Resistance

In order to stand out in the crowd, marketers and PR pros have been forced into taking the path of least resistance: writing condensed, to-the-point online content to grab the reader’s attention within seconds. But in reality, it’s most likely that this type of content also loses the reader’s attention within seconds.

Compressed content mirrors the cursory reading we engage in every day when we pass traffic signs and billboards. Small blogs are purposely overpopulated with hyperlinks and keywords, leading to what David Nicholas and Ian Rowlands call “Power Browsing.” As opposed to reading in a horizontal fashion, individuals now scan screens vertically. This lack of focus generates mind-wandering episodes and ultimately causes low content retention. The average person’s activity switches every 3-10 minutes by jumping from site to site.

Perhaps marketers need to rethink their approach to content creation. At the moment, reading short articles online involves a unique and dismaying neurological process.

The Digital Brain

Neurological studies have shown that actual or “deep” reading involves contemplative cognitive activity. By following a narrative closely, individuals engage in the sort of deep thinking that occurred during the Industrial Revolution with the invention of steam-powered printing as reading became a widespread European leisure activity.  

“Power browsing,” on the other hand, involves a differential neurological circuit that has led some experts to suggest humans have adapted to the digital revolution by developing a “Butterfly Brain.” Put simply, the brain is plastic, and any regular activity can change the neuronal circuits that define our behaviour. It seems that “skimming is becoming our dominant mode of reading,” stated Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think and Remember.

“When online, people switch between two poor kinds of reading — “tunnel vision” reading in which one reads a single bit of text without a sense of the context, and “marginal distraction,” which happens, for example, when a person reads textual feeds on the sidebar of a website such as a blog,” Zimming Liu, Reading Behaviour in the digital environment: Changes in reading behaviour over the past ten years.

Fear Not, Content Is Still King

Given that engagement is the key to successful marketing, perhaps marketers and PR pros need to rethink their approach to content creation. Well-thought-out, thorough, and detailed content should deliver a holistic brand message that encourages real engagement to far surpass the current trend of fleeting blog posts. 

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