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From AJR,   April/May 2013  issue

Does Anyone Read Those Stories They Saved for Later?   

Pocket for Publishers aims to help news outlets find out how often readers return to stories they digitally tuck away. Tues., April 23, 2013.


By Lucy Westcott
Lucy Westcott (lucywestcott6@gmail.com) is a graduate student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.      

Forget the yellowing piles of newspapers and dog-eared magazines waiting to be read later; rarely does anyone pick them up. There are apps for saving unfinished articles, but how often do readers return to them?

Nate Weiner wants to help publishers learn the answer to that question.

Pocket, the online saving device formerly known as Read It Later, has been making it easier for online readers to save content they find interesting be it articles or videos, recipes or Tweets since 2007, when Weiner created it. The service now has 8.5 million users.

Its new initiative, Pocket for Publishers, allows the Web sites of magazines and newspapers to track which articles and authors are not only being saved to Pocket, but how often and when the content is reopened and reread.

The way Pocket sees it, publishers can now view the "lifespan" of their articles, videos and Tweets, which are sometimes reread months later. Publishers who have signed up for the service, which launched March 26, include BuzzFeed, the Washington Post and Mother Jones.

Pocket for Publishers is not designed to make money, says Mark Armstrong, editorial director of Pocket and founder of longform journalism Web site Longreads. The company is funded by venture capital and last July raised $5 million in a second round of investment, the first round bringing in $2.5 million, according to tech Web site TechCrunch.

Pocket "is a really amazing second channel [for content] and continues to pay off for publishers for weeks, month, and years," Armstrong says. "Pocket is a great way to save and consume timeless content."

Pocket, along with other save-it-for-later sites like Instapaper, Readability and Evernote, can be installed on your computer, smartphone or tablet. When the doors are about to open on the Metro and it's time to put down the iPhone, you just touch Pocket's pink envelope icon to store the article for future reading.

Pocket's free tools for publishers provide them with the ability to integrate Pocket into their apps or Web sites, making it easier for readers to preserve their content. It also allows publishers to see which content and authors are bringing in the most traffic, using tracking tools that show a timeframe of saves and opens. Publishers who charge for digital content can also use Pocket's metrics.

"It's been amazing to see the reaction to [Pocket from publishers]," Armstrong says, adding that editorial, social media and business staffers have all contacted Pocket and "want to understand the metrics behind save-for-later."

"When we first started talking to publishers, [they] had diverse models. Some were interested in social and sharing, ad others were interested in building up a paywall," Armstrong says. Publishers "can see what's doing well in terms of totals saves and total opens."

He adds, "This is the very first time [publishers] have been able to see the save-for-later phenomenon." Users revisit about half of all saved content, Armstrong says.

Media analyst Ken Doctor says that while save-it-for-later services are great, readers only have so much time to read all the content they save.

"There is so much we feel we ought to read," Doctor says, that there is a certain anxiety attached to keeping up with everything. "There is an overwhelming pressure to constantly feel like we're missing things."

The majority of Pocket's users save for later on mobile devices, Armstrong says, with 72 percent using Pocket on a tablet or phone. This mobile-heavy usage is crucial, as most major news outlets now get 33 percent of their traffic from mobile, up from 22 to 25 percent last year. Many believe it will increase to 50 percent in two years, Doctor says.

"The experience of these services on phones is of No. 1 importance," Doctor says.

Callie Schweitzer, director of marketing and communications at Vox Media, which runs The Verge, Polygon and SB Nation, recently started using Pocket for Publishers. "We're pretty early on in the process, so it's important not to read too much into the numbers," Schweitzer says. "It has been pretty fascinating to look at the shelf life of various stories and what makes something pop after it's been published."

She adds, "We're not planning to make any changes, because our editorial decisions are not driven by what gets the most traffic or what people are saving to read later. But we're always looking for more insight into how our readers consume our content."