Arthur Attwell

Interstitial reading: The new cereal-box moment

What do you do with those wasted minutes in a queue, waiting for a train or a meeting, or staring at the cereal box wishing there was something new to read there?

I usually reach for my phone to read, in an activity that’s come to be called “interstitial reading”. Over at Tools of Change, Joseph Esposito has posted a great outline of what interstitial reading could add up to:

“For a day filled with IMs and music and slathered over with email, one opportunity for publishers is to promote interstitial reading, reading that is done in the brief moments between other engagements, whether those claims on our attention are other media or simply the wiggle room in a schedule: the time spent waiting for a plane, a doctor, or for a meeting to begin. That’s a huge number of minutes in any day; a good portion of our lives is wasted while we are waiting for the main course to arrive.”

I’m the ultimate interstitial reader, mostly news and blogs read on Opera Mini, and I have the nine clicks it takes to be reading on my phone down to pure muscle memory. I recently enjoyed stories published by Mobfest/Novel Idea, short fiction commissioned specifically for phones in South Africa, written by some of South Africa’s top and rising-star writers, and delivered by push SMS and mobile web. (Disclosure: my wife was the commissioning editor hired by Mobfest.)

It was a pilot project of sorts, and despite the high quality of the work, its biggest obstacle was getting people used to reading on their phones, and, perhaps, getting them to take their interstitial reading opportunities. I suspect this had something to do with an awkward delivery mechanism and a preponderance of poor native phone browsers. One-click-and-I’m-reading phones and apps (like several already available for the iPhone) are the key to interstitial reading, at least if you haven’t honed your phone’s browser-launching drill as obsessively as I have.

The key to publishing for interstitial reading is finding a business model. Arranging for an easy payment mechanism for phone content sounds great but is complex and expensive to do properly (anything that requires more than two clicks and a few seconds’ page-loading time is not “properly”). And the advertising model is unlikely to work in the near future, given that readership will take time to grow to a size worthy of ad spend. I’d like to see publishers use interstitial reading as a try-before-you-buy opportunity, and not bog the model down by trying to monetise it from the first click.