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TidBITS 2015 Reader Survey Results

I’ve been poring over the results of our TidBITS 2015 Reader Survey, and frankly, it has been invigorating. There are an infinite number of things we could write about, and numerous ways we could focus on the topics we cover, and after hearing from 2,267 readers, I have a clearer idea of where to direct our efforts.

Before I discuss the details, let me acknowledge that this survey is far from scientific, in large part because respondents were self-selected rather than chosen randomly. That said, I opened the survey up to paid TidBITS members and TidBITS Talk subscribers early, and compared their responses against the overall results. Unsurprisingly, they were a little more positive about nearly everything, but only a little, and the trends I saw early on didn’t change direction later.

For instance, 90 percent of respondents feel that our articles are “just right” in length, with 8 percent picking “too long” and 2 percent “too short,” and those numbers never wiggled by more than 1–2 percent each time I checked the results. We’ll stick with what we’re doing in that regard, but with an eye toward tightening our text.

Reader Age -- Perhaps most useful was learning about the stage of life many TidBITS readers are in. As you can see in the chart, people under 40 make up less than 4 percent of the readership that will respond to a survey, whereas 80 percent of our audience is between 50 and 79. This says to me that our audience has remained stable over the years, since Tonya and I started TidBITS when we were 22 and most people who could afford a Mac back then would have been a bit older.


Another publisher might see this as a reason to change everything in an attempt to woo younger readers. We’re not doing that. Since we see the TidBITS membership program as the most important portion of the TidBITS business model (see “Become a TidBITS Member and Banish Banner Ads from Our Site,” 7 December 2015), our goal is to focus on what our current readers want, and I now have a better mental image of the people for whom we’re writing. Frankly, the average TidBITS reader probably has a good deal in common with our parents, who have a range of technical skills and interests, but are all now retired and frequently asking us questions about their Macs, iPhones, and iPads.

Where Do You Get TidBITS? -- When it comes to how you get TidBITS, email still rules, with nearly 80 percent of respondents getting our weekly issues in email, and 15 percent availing themselves of the TidBITS member benefit of receiving individual articles in email as they’re published. Another 15 percent rely on RSS, and 33 percent use our Web site. (The numbers add up to more than 100 percent because people often read in multiple ways.)


Social media isn’t a major way to access TidBITS, with only around 6 percent of readers using Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to learn about new articles. The hardest number for me to read was the ranking for our audio edition, which is used by very few people — 1.5 percent — but which garnered a number of plaintive requests to keep it going. It may not last forever, but it won’t be an easy decision either way.

Apple Platforms -- Moving on, let’s look at the Apple platforms you’re most interested in reading about. You can see how the votes broke down for each of Apple’s platforms in the full results, and how the graphs reflect the range of enthusiasm for each. As a way of comparing these, I’ve calculated a weighted average for each and then charted the values, so you can see them side by side.


I extract three important lessons from this chart:

  • You want coverage of the Mac above all else. We can help you there.

  • Coverage of the iPhone and iPad is good, and there’s no real distinction between the two.

  • We should shut up about the Apple Watch already.

The relatively strong showing for the Apple TV is skewed, I believe, by the fact that it’s a new platform for Apple. My guess is that if we’d asked this question before the fourth-generation Apple TV was announced, it would have been much lower. And I expect that as time goes by, interest in Apple TV coverage will drop unless developers come up with innovative apps that aren’t games. Yeah, most of you don’t play games — I’ll get to that next.

Article Types -- Next up, I asked how interested you were in reading seven different types of articles, some of which we’ve encapsulated into regular columns in the email issue of TidBITS. Overall the weighted averages here were heartening, with only one clear message: stop with the games. (Sorry, Josh!) We had an inkling that this would be the case, since FunBITS articles seldom garner any comments, and while we had hoped originally that covering some games would attract new readers, that doesn’t seem to be the case. We’re not declaring a complete moratorium on coverage of entertainment software, but we’ll restrict it to those apps that we think will most catch your interest.


I was happy to see that both the TidBITS Watchlist (short descriptions of updates to Mac apps, written largely by Agen Schmitz) and ExtraBITS (links to worthy articles on other Web sites) were quite popular — neither of them generate that many comments, so we’ve been feeling uncertain as to whether they were appreciated. They’ll continue apace, and the consensus in the free-form comments about ExtraBITS was that we should add more editorial commentary about the destination articles.

Content Types -- This category of question was only slightly different, asking what you thought about somewhat broader types of content. On either end, the takeaway message is clear: you desperately want more practical how-to articles, but you’re just not that into hearing about non-Apple platforms. I’m ecstatic to have confirmation on the how-to end of things, since we’re good at that and I like it when we can make a difference in people’s lives by solving a problem or making something far easier than it was previously.


I’ll admit, I’m a little sad that more of you don’t want to hear about what other major companies are making, even only occasionally, and from the perspective of an Apple user. Personally, I like to keep up on the big trends outside Apple. Perhaps the strategy du jour of platform lock-in is too powerful, and as much as it might be theoretically interesting to read about what Google and Microsoft and Amazon are doing, you know it would be too hard to switch.

The thrust of the free-form comments associated with these questions was helpful. To summarize, you said you liked the way we handled things like Apple product announcements and the relatively minimal amount of business news we include, but what was most important was analysis, background, and editorial comment that goes beyond the facts. We’ll do our best to keep that in mind, and always try to add value to what’s readily available at so many other sites.

Take Control -- Although we didn’t ask any questions about our Take Control series of books, they featured prominently in the free-form comments. Happily, most of the mentions were highly positive, but I heard loud and clear the complaint that we’re promoting them in TidBITS too much.

It’s a tough situation because Take Control book sales account for the lion’s share of our company’s revenue and a number of our authors rely heavily on Take Control to earn a living — those sales are essential for us. What I plan to try, then, is to extract content from our next book and have that practical information serve as the ambassador for the book in TidBITS. With luck, it will increase both the utility of TidBITS and sales of the book.

Wrapping Up -- Thanks again for all your time in responding to our survey questions — I hope you’ll find our coverage tweaked in ways that you appreciate, without changing what you’ve long liked about TidBITS. I’ll admit, the survey results were one of the reasons I whipped up the article “Put Save As Back on the File Menu” (30 November 2015), which has proven extremely popular.

For those who asked questions in your comments, my apologies, but the survey was anonymous, so we have no way of responding to you. You can always send me email at ace@tidbits.com, and if you need help with something administrative, the best way to get help from our new Director of Customer Service, Lauri Reinhardt, is to send email to support@tidbits.com.

Oh, and one last thing. The final question on the survey, “How likely is it that you would recommend TidBITS to a friend or colleague?” was designed to generate what’s called a Net Promoter Score. On a scale of -100 to 100, ours is 61, which seems good. I’m not really sure what it means, and it may not mean much except in comparison to other Apple publications, but there it is.

 

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Comments about TidBITS 2015 Reader Survey Results
(Comments are closed.)

Yorick  2015-12-07 15:33
And herein lies another great Tidbits article, which I read on the RSS feed of just the right length and depth with little games content but a mention the Apple Watch. Thanks to Adam and Team.
Betty Fellows  2015-12-07 15:44
Great article. I hope you won't totally drop info about the Apple Watch.

I'm a paying member and encourage others to do so. If we appreciate Tidbits then we need to join. I joined when I was unemployed and had no income. That is how important Tidbits is to me.

I also really appreciate the Take Control Books.

Keep up the great work.
Betty
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-07 16:40
Thanks for the kind words, Betty! Don't worry, the Apple Watch won't disappear entirely from our coverage, but we'll probably pull back to covering the major releases and changes, or apps that might change someone's opinion of it. I mean, once the Apple Watch lets you shoot laser beams from your wrist, we assume TidBITS reader will want to know more.
Hans Solmssen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-12-08 09:39
Yes indeed, don't drop the Apple Watch entirely. I love mine and hope to stay informed of how best to use it.
Steven Oz  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-12-14 02:06
I agree. I've had mine since May and I love it. It is so much easier to access than my usually-coat-buried iPhone 6. There are always new things to discover about it so, please, keep the coverage coming. I'll bet a lot more Apple Watches are bought over the holiday season... then info about them will be more in demand.
David Price  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2015-12-07 16:13
This is the first time I've received a report of the results of a survey in which I participated that I understood! Let's hear it for the oldtimers!
Dave Price, age 69
Massachusetts
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-07 16:41
Heck, all too often, I never hear the results of surveys I take at all. I think that's a shame - if I'm going to take the time to participate, I think whoever is running the survey should at least tell me how it came out.
Susan Joseph  2015-12-07 17:18
Very interesting summary and it is Point on of how I feel. Thank you so much. I am on the Board of Directors of a Macintosh users group and I recommend Tidbits all the time. Just thought you would like to know. Keep up the good work.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-07 18:57
I'm very pleased to hear that, Susan!
Anonymous  2015-12-07 18:45
One thing that has long confused me about Tidbits is the decision to create entries alerting readers to updates to a specific, limited list of software.

Why those apps and not others? Better yet, why post this info at all? After all, if you've got of of the apps it will almost always alert you from within the app (or, if purchased in the Mac App Store you'll be alerted by MacOS.).

Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-07 19:02
The apps we cover in the TidBITS Watchlist are generally those that we have written about in more significant ways over the years - they're apps that we feel are important to the Macintosh experience. New ones make their way in over time, and very occasionally we use the Watchlist as a way to cover an app that we want to say more about soon, but don't have the time for right then.

As far as the automatic update alerts, you're absolutely right and that's one of the reasons we were a little surprised that people appreciate the Watchlist so much. In TidBITS Talk, people said they still liked it because they could learn about updates before launching the app (when they would want to get work done, not fuss with an update). They also liked hearing about apps they didn't own, in case the updates added features that they wanted before purchasing.
Steve Werner  2015-12-07 19:14
I'm curious that you report on updates to the older version of Office 2011 but not the new released Office 2016. I'd appreciate if you would add the latter.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-08 11:59
Sorry about that! Agen said he was waiting for Office 2016 to be available as a purchasable app, not just as a subscription service, and he apologizes for having missed that transition. Office 2016 will start making appearances in the Watchlist from now on.
Paul Brown  2015-12-14 06:44
I don't use every one of my apps every time I boot up, and I generally don't like to allow apps to automatically update themselves. And not all apps will alert me when an update is available. And when an update is available, I want to know a bit about it before proceeding to install it -- I've been burned before for being an early adopter of updates that weren't quite ready for release/use. For all of these reasons I rely on TidBits as a primary alert for many of my app updates.
Lindsley Williams  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-12-07 20:22
As to text, I found this in opening portions of your article: "This says to me that our audience has remained stable over the years, since Tonya and I started TidBITS when we were 22 and most people who could afford a Mac back then would have been a bit older." In fact, at the time frame mentioned, they (myself included) would have been correspondingly DECADES YOUNGER (at that time, of course).

As to Tidbits 2.0 (or whatever), I worry that you will try to emulate "trendy" publications such as MacLife. Please, resist the temptations to "play to [that] market. Let market data, not trendlines, tell you when it is time to bolster Tibdbits' attention to recent entries such as iWatch and iTV.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-08 12:01
I meant "a bit older than us." :-) Back in 1990, it was relatively unusual for college students and those just out of college to be able to afford Macs, so I think a lot of our readers were professionals in their 30s and 40s. And 25 years later, well, here we all are.

Don't worry - the reader survey and our ever-increasing reliance on TidBITS members means that we're going in the opposite direction of the trendy publications. But we're still going to get a way nicer Web site!
Ian Stavert  2015-12-07 20:54
I generally don't take part in surveys because I found the questions asked were more about self-congratulations on the topics they picked to survey with no opportunity to let them know about what you don't like about their product or experience. I think it's also about how deeply I feel about the service or product. So thanks TidBITS for the opportunity for participating in a good survey. On the subject of age of readership, I would be worried slightly as we're all not going to be around for ever and without a new readership you'll be preaching to a congregation of nil. How to engage the younger demographic though is a question that I cannot answer. I let all my Mac friends know about TidBITS but don't know if they follow up. Maybe they're "tech-ready" and don't need this type of info, but all those tech blogs and magazines out there would belie this assumption. Once again, thanks for a great publication which I think I've been following for maybe 15 years.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-08 12:05
The saddest email messages I get are from a family member of a long-time subscriber who has just passed away. So yes, I do think a little bit about the long term future of TidBITS, if our audience is older than we are. But then again, at some point we'll want to retire too, so I'm hoping there will be a time when it seems appropriate to do so, from everyone's perspective. Not for some years yet, though!
janesprando  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-12-07 22:22
Hints! Don't abandon the hints!!!! I read and use a lot of them and they have saved me time and trouble!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-08 12:21
Don't worry, we'll be doing plenty of tips and hints - they're some of the most fun bits to write!
Dennis B. Swaney  2015-12-07 22:29
Adam, regarding the low-interest in non-Apple platform news my view is this: if I wanted to read about Windows stuff, I'd be using Windows instead of Macs; if I wanted to read about Android devices, I would not be using iOS devices
Interesting article, thank you!

What was a total surprise to me, was that there is an audio edition. Apparently I am not the only one not knowing which explains the lack of use.

I will start using it right away. Please do not give it up.

Chris


The Audio Edition of the Economist can be downloaded and individual articles can be transferred to e.g. an iPod shuffle and listened to at the gym.

The Tidbits "Audio Edition" seems to be the ability to audio stream some articles.

Is there a way to download individual articles - or better - selections of articles?

If not, may I suggest you add that feature to make those hardly used audio files more useful and thus more used?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-08 12:08
You can listen to most TidBITS articles (we don't record the Watchlist or ExtraBITS, and occasional other articles slip through the cracks) by clicking the Listen link in the metadata line at the top. Or you can subscribe to all of them as a podcast in iTunes - look in the upper left corner of any page on the TidBITS site for a Podcast link.

More info here: http://tidbits.com/article/12953

So let me know if that's not what you were expecting, or if there's something else you'd like to see from our audio editions.
Thank you for pointing out the Postcast link, which I was completely unaware of - I actually associated that with these Nightowl talks and similar events you sometimes announce.

The podcast link helps, mp3 files to download would be even nicer at least for my personal workflow.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-08 16:07
We use JavaScript to open a little player window when someone clicks the Listen link at the top of any article. But that goes to a standard .m4a (like .mp3) file, like

http://tidbits.com/podcasts/16124.m4a

So if you click Listen, you can then copy the URL from the player window. The Listen links also appear in headline listings on the home page, if that helps with your workflow too.
Gilbert ROTH  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-12-08 05:43
This was really an interesting article. I was especially surprised by the age of your members and had believed that at 84, I was by far your oldest one!
Don't drop articles about the Apple Watch: it is normal that it is at the bottom of the list; it is a very new product and its version 2 will certainly bring many improvements. Remember the iPad1.
One last thing about your graphics; the bottom titles are to tiny and practically illegible.
Congratulations for your work. Please go on.
Colleen Thompson  2015-12-08 07:56
Click on the graphic; it will enlarge. Click on the enlarged version to shrink it back down.
Gilbert ROTH  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-12-08 09:05
Indeed, I missed this one. Thanks for your help.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-08 12:10
Thank you, Colleen! This is what I was referring to in our membership article about the desire for graphics to work better. I'm hoping to have a design where the graphics are generally more readable, and text wraps around them if they're in portrait orientation, and where zooming isn't so necessary.
Anton Vermeire  2015-12-08 05:45
I am unpleasantly surprised by the results of the age distribution of us, your readers. If not the result of the non-random selection of the participants, I think you have a real problem here that you must address if you intend TidBits to survive longer term, especially as Apple has been so successful themselves in attracting a younger customer base. For me, it is not the content or the topics per se, but the look and feel and the branding that perhaps would benefit from an overhaul. Given this result, the lack of social media usage seems less surprising.

I, too, did not know you have an audio edition. Chris' comments suggest that it is not a podcast and, if so, why not?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-08 12:20
As I noted in a response to a previous comment, I'm not too worried about the age of our audience. For one, we're not going to publish TidBITS forever, and I think we've also come to terms with the fact that TidBITS is not the sort of publication that could easily be sold and published by someone else. We're not the New York Times, and I doubt very much that Tristan aspires to take over the family publishing business. So if our audience dwindles to a point where it's no longer sustainable, so be it.

But I don't think that's going to be a problem. Only about 12% of people who subscribe to TidBITS in email are TidBITS members, so there's a lot of room for growth there.

Plus, there are a vast number of older Mac users out in the world who don't necessarily like getting support from 22-year-olds at Apple Stores, or who prefer to work with those who have similar histories and appreciate that not every new technology is necessarily better just because it's new.

I also have high hopes that a significantly redesigned Web site will help draw in new readers - occasionally, an article will attract 20,000 or more viewers, but I don't think our current site does a good job of encouraging those people to return.

And all that said, yes,we have a podcast version of all our articles - just click the Podcast link in the upper left of any TidBITS page to see it in iTunes and subscribe.
Anonymous  2015-12-08 07:48
I tend to resist surveys so I passed on yours, too, but I like the way you handled it and your summary of the results. I fit pretty well -- I'm getting old, I like my Mac, and I like getting how-to tips on the more arcane corners of Mac OS. However, I'm not retired, still go to work every day as a COBOL/Java/Unix/Windows programmer (the horror), and have a healthy interest in what the rest of the industry does, as do you. Thanks for all that you and Tonya do at Tidbits.
xandra  2015-12-08 17:02
As to interest in other platforms, it depends on the context. It's very easy to get in about Google or Microsoft elsewhere. So there's not much point in reiterating here. However, I'm very interested COMPARISON between similar products and services, especially from those weened on Apple.
John Erpelding  2015-12-08 22:02
Sorry I missed the actual survey. When I heard that such a low number of "readers" were using the audio podcasts, I was a little surprised. I find them highly useful and listen to them every week as I find I have less time to read than I used to, and offload much of my information gathering or reading in favor of podcasts, as I am able to multitask with them in a way I simply cannot do with reading. Please keep doing the podcasts! 😃 I also find I feel a little bit like I know you more by hearing your voice not just reading your words. Thanks again for all you do! I'm also proud to be a member...
FranciscoRuscalleda  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-12-14 23:37
Kudos for a great survey analysis, it was very thorough.

Keep up the excellent work. I'm looking forward to many insightful articles in 2016.
All the best,
Francisco
David Morrison  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-04-19 02:42
You confirm my own experience, that the free form comments often give much more insight than the actual question.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-04-19 13:35
I'd say that it's a different sort of insight - with a focused question, you know what the answers could possibly be, but with a free-form question, you never know what you might learn. Which is good!