Do people really read? The Scoop on the Chartbeat’s Feature in Slate

If you haven’t read “You Won’t Finish This Article: Why People Online Don’t Read to the End“, check out Farhad Manjoo‘s piece in Slate – it’s an honest and in-depth look at Slate’s audience behavior based on Chartbeat’s engagement data, researched by our Data Scientist Josh Schwartz. Manjoo explores a major editorial –and in Manjoo’s case, personal – pain point, which is the fear that readers aren’t reading the entire story– or reading the story at all sometimes.

And sure, that’s a valid concern. As Manjoo says, 50% of Slate’s readers scroll to the midway point of a Slate story. There’s also data that shows people sometimes tweet about stories before they’ve actually finished them. And that probably stings when you’ve spent hours, days, and sometimes longer crafting the perfect article.


But we actually don’t see this as a Debbie Downer tale of woe. We’ve always known not everyone reads a full story. But until now, we haven’t had a way to prove it since our only metric, really, has been page views. They click. The end. But that’s so far from the truth.

And honestly, some reader drop-off is to be expected –it’s impossible to lock down 100% of your readers for 100% of your story. What you want to focus on are those readers that are actively engaging with your content at all. The people who are interested enough to get past the headline and start engaging with the info. As Josh has said before, this is about matching the best, most-engaged readers to your content, as these folks have the greatest likelihood of becoming your loyal, returning audience.

As for that 50% reader bail stat Manjoo speaks of – in general,  we think the most important thing to understand is not that they’re bailing but where on the page you’re losing your readers because that starts to tell you why they’re leaving. That’s helpful data you can act on — maybe a paragraph needs to be restructured and clarified or the accompanying video needs to be promoted higher on the page.

And take note: Slate gets awesome below-the-fold engagement. A whopping 86% of the time Slate’s readers spend engaging on the page takes place below Slate’s digital fold. Ad Sales teams, this is yet another example of why your most valuable ad positions aren’t always right at the top.


As readers, this data has lead loads of people to defend their reading habits and explain the “why” behind bailing mid-post – so please share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet at Chartbeat. Josh is on deck to answer any data science-related queries and if you’ve got some ideas on what he should dive into next, let us know.

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