ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Content vs. readers- A fight nobody's winning

Updated on July 28, 2012

I remember watching one of those unavoidable Funny Guys on TV. The subject was reading, and this extremely predictable person leapt to his feet with a large smile and said “Guys don’t read!, Ha, ha, etc.” My instant reaction was “Nor do cockroaches”. I later did an article on the subject called Men don’t read- Maybe that’s why you’re morons? This also referred to the amazing but apparently accepted statistic that something like 80% of college grads never read a book after college.

Correction- This is what happens when you use memory of your own writing. The exact figures from a site called Hot for Words are actually worse, overall and much more pervasive:

1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.

42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.

80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. (2010)

Those stats are truly worrying. Not reading, in practice, means you can’t keep up to date with the new ideas which usually surface in books, particularly academically creative books, scientific papers, etc. You would miss a whole range of new issues in your profession, too. Continuing learning, in fact, which is now very common in most academic disciplines, recognizes the requirement for ongoing learning and training in new fields as they emerge.

“Not reading” is also entirely wrong. Obviously, professionals don’t simply vegetate for 40 years. Degrees go stale in the career market after about 5-10 years, and no new training doesn’t look good on resumes. Nor is it practical for anyone on Earth not to upgrade skills with external courses, etc. In practice they will read a lot of materials related to their work and particularly their talents and personal interests in various fields. They will also usually write a significant amount of material.

Reading realities

That isn’t quite the whole story, either. The reality of reading is far more complex. The assumption here is that reading is voluntary, and that people will read for the love of it. That’s the real meaning of the term “reading” in context with people not reading. It just so happens that this view of reading misses just about all the realities of modern reading behaviour.

The conventional view of reading is more than a bit off target:

Much reading is actually compulsory. This culture makes people read, more or less continuously. Thanks to the internet and computers, people do more reading than ever before. A large amount of information has to be read daily.

Quite a lot of the reading is effectively subconscious. You passively look at a news site, for example, and simply pick up basic information. You wouldn’t claim you were reading it, but you are. Skimming is another version of this process- Get facts, move on.

Voluntary reading is actually quality and preference based. Few people read specifically to be bored to death. They read what they want to read, as far as possible.

Many people aren’t good readers. They’re not comfortable when reading. Reading is an ordeal, not a pleasure for them. They read what they must, but don’t expect them to read all day then scurry away with a copy of War and Peace or Spinoza for the voluntary entertainment value.

Most importantly- Reading is a unique physiological and psychological experience.

1.Physiologically- The big optic nerves and processors are dominant features of the brain for most people. These very high value systems have priority over other stimuli. Visual signals are instant. When reading, these big operations are narrowed to text. Some people prefer “books with pictures” because the optic nerves are let out to play occasionally.

2.Psychologically- Reading activates the logic centres. It allows and actually promotes abstraction and imagination, higher brain functions. From which follows a basic situation- If your higher brain isn’t very well trained, reading can be very hard work.

So why would anyone read voluntarily, if they’re being deluged every second with information to sort through? The truth is that any voluntary reading will naturally be subject to the same values as the unavoidable “normal” reading done every day.

The cultural issue- Quality vs. content value

The phrase Content is King has a lot to answer for. What wasn’t generally realized when the internet took over the world was that content would become so bland. A lot of commercial content is actually a type of business writing, combined with very basic advertising copywriting. Gripping reading, it cannot be.

This is also thematically opposed to the idea of voluntary reading. It’s an oddly primitive methodology. The theory is that people will see something and naturally read it. The exact opposite, in fact, is and always has been the case. Somehow a very well-known fact has got totally lost in content values- Sales resistance.

The optic nerves are also good editors, very much in synch with the higher brain in one particular way- They look for and avoid risk. If content looks like a sales pitch, the mind will avoid it. Sales resistance can be triggered by any suspect information, or even the appearance of content, fonts, styles etc.

The mind will also react very negatively to anything it considers a waste of time. Should I spend an hour reading this thing? No. There are other things I want to look at, and this really isn’t all that interesting. The further degree of this is just plain Not interested. Most of the time, that will also be a very accurate assessment.

The culture of content

Internet culture has obviously changed how people read, but it’s also raised the bar to the stars regarding why people read. This huge medium has made people very fussy. That’s actually good news for literacy. Critical capacity and making distinctions about value of reading materials is a core part of literacy.

The trouble is that as usual, the cultural product is a long way behind the culture, even for people with average reading skills. I was reading a professionally written bit of ad copy about a product line I know very well. This was absolutely standard, or better than standard, text. Nothing wrong with it in theory. It was targeted to a very narrow bandwidth of interested possible readers. It wasn’t actually slick, but it did have an air of slickness, even on a rather dry subject.

Interesting, it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. The style and format were perfect, the information was clear and it could never get out of the blocks as a stimulating read. It was basically a business newsletter. There wasn’t much to suggest much more than a situation/solution end product. No stimuli, no extended logic. Harmless enough, and you wouldn’t need therapy after reading it, but could you call it “reading”?

Conflict of interests in content

The Content is King culture is now shooting itself in the foot on a regular basis. It has moved away from providing product to merely providing another bureaucratic process. Like print publishing before it, there’s more emphasis on form than substance. Words will be micromanaged because that’s what people are trained to do, but lousy content value will be totally ignored.

That’s a very serious mistake. There’s now an actual conflict between reader interests and content values. This is the fight nobody’s winning, in all its inglorious uselessness. The value of reading is purely personal. People don’t, and won’t, voluntarily read low value materials. People do physically read, a lot, but they’re being turned off reading by this very high percentage of pure verbiage. It says nothing, and even relatively illiterate people recognize the lack of value. This is an own goal for content producers, and it must be addressed.

Format uber alles?

Content formatting really needs to grow up, fast. The pedantic forms of articles and even blog copy are becoming utterly counterproductive. Setting a range of arbitrary sizes, styles and usage has nothing to do with content values, and that’s what’s torpedoing engagement with readers. People will read long articles, if they feel like it and on topics in which they’re interested. Information values don’t come in shoe sizes. Content should recognize that fact.

For instance-

The ad copy I referred to above could have been two or three paragraphs as basic information. It was at least 500 words, that One Size Fits All travesty of a size factor. It was padded to death with non-information or tangential information for size, not content. Like a lot of conventional writing, it was more filler than filling to read. It added nothing to the basic facts and no additional values. Actual content value was about 30% of the size of the text. That’s what’s turning people off reading.

The picture of creation of materials for reading is of a production line. Enormous amounts of product are created, regardless of their actual value. The cost of production is equally enormous, so a lot of battery chicken writing is done on the cheap, reducing quality values. You simply can’t get quality at those prices.

Upscale, we have grads writing the way they were trained to write. That’s another qualifier, in the most hideously ironic way. These guys aren’t battery chickens, and some can write well, but they produce basically uniform, undistinguished product. Even good grad writers can’t get a lot of traction in terms of value for readers, if they’re all writing in much the same way. The result is still battery chicken materials, just with fewer typos. People will recognize that, and avoid it. They’ll also miss any good quality stuff simply because it looks like the low-value stuff they loathe, too “standard” to be interesting.

The moral of the story- If you want people to read, write something which has value to readers. Get that right, and you’ll get readers.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Dee aka Nonna profile image

      Dee aka Nonna 

      6 years ago

      This is an amazingly wonderful article. You make so many great points that I had to -re-read to process them. And, about reading.....I love to read and will read things that others might deem boring to get to the writers point. I have found some amazing little gems by doing that.

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Glad to hear it, Doodlehead. That was exactly the point I was trying to make with the article itself as well as its content.

    • Doodlehead profile image


      6 years ago from Northern California

      I loved this. I will be back to re-read this. This was an exciting read.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)