From the Editor: Is Your Publication Habit-Forming?
We take it as self-evident that newer distribution channels are superior, and maybe they are. Who wants to annoy a reader with late news or the inconvenience of stopping by a newsstand when they can access content as soon as it is posted online? It's getting harder and harder to find even the most die-hard print lover who's not toting a tablet or squinting at a smartphone. But what we have not yet succeeded in doing, in my opinion, is replicating that cue-routine-reward experience that was part and parcel of print media. Even if you check the New York Times every morning on your iPad, this is only "habit light." Some of the stories you encountered are ones you read the evening before. Most of the news you already know, because it happened yesterday. You do a quick browse and return to the paper later in the day (or not). Our cues and routines are fleeting because we are distracted by a hundred other things. The rewards are less potent. Habits are easier to break and reform, shifting with the vicissitudes of the 24-hour news cycle. And magazines online don't "feel" any different—they are another content source in a world of options online. Who knows exactly when articles appear and disappear? You meant to read that movie review today; you'll get to it later. You get the picture.
I think there are clues out there as to the best way to get readers to form and strengthen habits around digital media products. Every month, I get an e-mail from The Atlantic announcing their new issue and summarizing all the content. Magazines could run ad campaigns built around the idea of an issue cycle, even if the boundaries of these cycles have become somewhat fuzzy. Publications should look at where cue-routine-reward components continue to exist; for the New York Times, I think it is in the weekly round of columns appearing from their popular crop of op-ed writers. There are many people who look forward to reading David Brooks every Friday. That's something the Grey Lady can work with.