Are people who consume digital content ‘readers?’

If you would only like to answer the question in the headline without going  further, then please just enter your answer in the comments by clicking here, or scroll down.

It frustrates me that companies, especially media organizations – especially newspapers – use the term “readers” to describe people who consume digital content and interact with the content of their Web pages. Even the Internet/Web-only Huffington Post refers to their followers, users, community, audience as ‘readers.’

The use of the label ‘reader’ frustrates me because it is a term that harkens back to the one-way-communication, and information-gate-keeper media before the Internet or Web and smart phone applications.

Here is the definition of “reader’ from the Miram-Webster dictionary.


noun \ˈrē-dər\

: a person who reads a book, magazine, newspaper, etc.

: a machine that is used for reading text or information that is stored on film, tape, etc.

: a book that is used to learn how to read or to practice reading in your own language or in a foreign language

Notice that the very first definition makes no reference to digital content. If you think that the “etc” in the definition gives us an opening to use the term, then it is probably a good idea to check into the Wishful Thinking Hotel down the street and join the rest of the old school journalists, publishers, and even Huffington post.

The following is a 2007 video interview with Jay Rosen author of ”People formally known as the audience.” Other than a political opinion he voiced, this is worth a watch – at least for five minutes.


If a particular style book requires the use of the word ‘reader’ to describe the “people formerly known as the audience,” then it should be changed.

While there are words that are ‘read’ on many Web sites, most webmasters take advantage of the video, audio and animation capabilities of HTML5, Java, Flash, etc. to provide a much different interactive experience or UX (User Experience). ‘Readers’ are passive and by definition are using a piece of physical paper or bound book.

I am not trying to persuade by claiming, “The dictionary says so.” I am simply trying to understand why Rosen’s “people formerly known as the audience” have the epithet “reader” tacked to them by very forward-looking, new media organizations.

My suggestion? I like think of these people as the “community.” Isn’t that where digital media is heading? If a media organization is not attempting to either establish a community or join a community with whom to discuss, share and contribute, then the end for that organization is already in sight, IMHO. At the very least media companies and content marketers should attempt to join an existing community.

The Huffington Post “community” instead of “readers.”

Language is not keeping up with communication technology. Just a thought…

My mind is not completely made up regarding this. Can you help me with this?

What would you call “the people formally known as the audience?” Frankly, “audience” beats the hell out of “readers.”

About Paul Hem

Innovator, team-player, who leads by example and loves to win.
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