COLUMN 

Missing serendipity

Is it possible to give readers too much choice? Do they always know exactly what content would interest them?

By James Evelegh

Missing serendipity
Photograph: Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash.

The route to ever greater personalisation of content risks limiting our horizons and narrowing our world view.

Personalisation is hugely helpful in enabling us to serve up the content our readers want, but the issue is the degree to which we take it.

If a reader is only served what they specifically ask for, how will they ever discover all the interesting content they didn’t ask for?

Where will their new experiences come from? How will their perhaps-complacent world view ever be challenged?

Dan Heffernan, one of the contributors in our forthcoming special on ‘new subscriber acquisition’, puts it well: “Don’t ask me, your reader, too much about what I want to read. Give me some broad choices but let me be introduced to things that are outside my interests. I might discover some new interests.”

One of the joys of the traditional newspaper is the serendipitous moments it provides, as you turn a page and come across the unexpected, learn about different cultures and passions, read the life stories of people just over the horizon and find out about new opportunities for enriching your own life. A reading journey of surprise, delight and discovery courtesy of a skilled editor’s thoughtful selection and sequencing of stories.

If variety is the spice of life, publishers need to find ways of combining reader choice and editor curation. One without the other is not life-enhancing.

Personalisation brings many business benefits, but if publishers can harness the serendipity of the newspaper reading experience, and apply it to the digital experience, then people will become more interested and more interesting.

You can catch James Evelegh’s regular column in the InPubWeekly newsletter, which you can register to receive here.