Why our preference for print is misleading

I love print on paper. Most people who read magazines love print on paper, perhaps because it is so very convenient, perhaps because they like the look of type and the feel of the stock. That's why we say we "prefer" to read on paper when someone asks us.

But as Dr Joe Webb reminds us, preference surveys "track the way people believe they used to do things, not new behavior, nor does it indicate future behavior."

This quote comes in a longer piece that ties together the cost of using the US Postal Service with Mary Meeker's annual survey of media, technology, the economy and more. Dr Webb was prompted to write it because the president of the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA, the US equivalent of the UK's PPA) called into question Meeker's motivation and impartiality.

It's a longish read with a specific US context but worth looking at for the more universal points he makes. Like this further thought on preference surveys, for example:

They do not track frequency, or volume of usage. And when studies report things like “70% still prefer medium A,” that conveniently forgets that until medium B came around, medium A was 100%, and that it was the only choice. Being at 70% is actually loss of almost one-third of the hearts and minds of marketplace, not a reason for celebration. By presenting it that way, the survey makes a particular condition seem better than it is.
Sadly, preference surveys encourage producers of medium A to stick with that medium at a time when they should be using the surveys to show the urgency of being involved in medium B, or better yet, figure out how mediums C and D will affect B and A. Preference surveys say something nice and make the entrenched class readers feel good, but the surveys are not really strategic, tactical, or actionable, and give competitors more time and freedom to encroach on their business.

Many magazine publishers are looking at B, C and D, of course, but nostalgia for print – perhaps bolstered by an apparently thriving print-based indie magazine sector – continues to skew the view from some perspectives.

I love print – but most of my reading is done on a screen.

Major hat-tip to Bo Sacks and his wonderful newsletter.