It's 2013 and a major Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (HS) added pagination to their longer stories, demonstrating that they don't have any understanding of the digital market.
You probably know those numbers from one to ten below the Google search results. That's pagination. Books have pages, and the pages have numbers, so it kinda makes sense to think that there is a need for page numbers in digital content as well. This is not true. Books were paginated because the space was limited. Digital content is divided based on topic, and the space in each topic is practically infinite. Pagination is a feature that will disappear when UX designers who were born pre-1960s are not in the lead anymore.
There is no use case that I know of where pagination would be the right way to divide purely digital content. Not a single use case. So why did Helsingin Sanomat add this feature to their site? It's 2013. 20 years after the need to paginate content started to disappear, they suddenly reintroduce it.
The answer is clicks. Advertising revenue. Typically people pay for value, but what I'm going to illustrate next should make it clear that that is not the case in advertising world.
Metrics gone rogue
Here's an idea: HS should paginate every word of a story to a different page. That would generate clicks, wouldn't it? I dare you: do it. Pick a good story and make it a thing to click through it word by word.
Sounds bad? But isn't it the same thing that HS is doing when they are gaming the page views with the pagination?
I do realize that it's not their fault. The metrics are wrong, and the body that follows the metrics (called TNS metric) is stuck in the digital stone age. Every modern web page that has changing content loads dynamically. Most of the modern pages work with infinite scroll and dynamic loading of the content. By keeping on the old page views as an advertising metric, TNS metrix is frankly destroying the opportunities of large finnish newspapers to create innovative platforms that might have markets outside the current narrow markets.
So I just want to say this: Shame on you, TNS. Do your work and get back to this century. Measure time users actually are exposed to ads. Call me or Hacklog guys if you don't know how.
In any case, HS should know better. Let's go back to trashing HS for making such a horrible decisions.
Clicks are not a resource to waste
Pagination is evil and bad and it makes no sense to have it whatsoever. Here are some reasons:
First, users don't notice or bother to click the second page. Their reading experience sinks when HS requires them to make the decision to continue reading in the middle of the article.
Second, the article is the piece of content users access. Future readers come to individual articles from reddits, facebooks, twitters and tumblrs. If you divide your article in pieces, you divide the only social object you have in pieces. Imagine that you had to pick half the pieces of your IKEA furniture from Espoo and half from Vantaa because IKEA made a deal with gasoline providers. You might think that the analogy is bad. It's not.
Third, if someone in a story clicks a link, she or he participates. That click might deliver the story to hundreds of new readers - that is the way content is distributed and that is how users participate. And HS wastes that one potential click to make the users to reload the page?
Here is another idea. Write below the story: "If you liked this story, please reload the page." If the system sucks, game the system.
The right metrics
Companies sell products and services. They buy advertisements for three reasons:
Some companies want to sell their products through the banners (1). This is where Finnish startup Kiosked is focusing and they are doing it right, but very few companies actually have this need. I wouldn't buy a can of Coca-Cola or a Mercedes Benz through a banner ad.
Mercedes and Coca Cola want brand recall (2) and brand recognition (3). A PwC study showed already several years ago that both brand recognition and brand recall are directly linked to time spent next the advertisement. Further, the effect is same no matter if the advertisement is a video where the advertisement actually stops the workflow or if the banner is next to the content as is usually the case with web ads.
What follows is that
- Even though only time spent really matters, only access (clicks) is measured and monitized.
- We are looking at those horrible auto play videos on HS website because it's easier to sell video ads even though "nicer" ads would have the same effect.
Be part of the change you want to see or get out
What about the "but the New York Times also uses pagination" argument? Grow up. As I said, Google is doing it as well. But that does not mean they are doing it right. They already removed the feature from the image search. If HS wants to create quality content in Finnish, they seriously have to take the change in their own hands. New York Times has absolutely different market size. If HS would just copycat their strategy, they'll end up having five journalists updating a wordpress blog, generate the operating margin the shareholders require, but with a minuscule revenue…
To sum this up, there is no need for pagination in any digital content. If you need to move inside digital content, you usually want to use timestamps, as in Facebook profiles. Pagination reveals the false metrics in advertising. If HS is not thinking about the reader nor the advertiser but instead they are optimizing their both business model loops to wrong metrics made up by a party which is not a stakeholder group at all, they probably deserve to die out.
Oh, by the way. How would a Scoopinion extension auto pagination feature sound like? It wouldn't hurt HS because they wouldn't even notice - they would still get the clicks.
HS had the best intentions. But they really should be fighting for the right metrics instead of gaming the system. Or at least they should get better at gaming the system, without putting the burden of extra decision-making on their users.