Slate Helps Readers Budget Time They'll Spend On Articles

The online magazine Slate has been listing read times along with headlines for the past month to let readers know before they click how long an article might be. The reading time is set at 275 words per minute.

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Dear listeners, this next feature will last one minute and 58 seconds. Now, we don't normally tip you off to the length of our stories. But we will, just this once, because we noticed the website has been doing it a lot lately. You'll find a read time now attached to every story in the site's far right-hand-column-thing - whatever it's called.

JOHN SWANSBURG: We call it the table of contents of the right rail. You can call it whatever you like.

CORNISH: Thanks, John Swansburg. He's Slate's editorial director. And he says these read times started in October, as part of a general re-design of the site. And they serve a practical purpose by clearly telling people...

SWANSBURG: The number of minutes it will take the reader to read the piece on the other side of the click from the home page.

CORNISH: For example, right by the headline for a story today called it's Thanksgiving dinner. Stop Eating at Lunchtime, you'll see 4m to read, 4m, as in four minutes. And if that's too long for you, you could try this story further down the right rail: A British Teacher's Archive of Confiscated Toys. That one is just a one minute read.

Now, cynics might mock this. In fact, one did last week: Stephen Colbert.

STEPHEN COLBERT: This will give readers some advanced notice about what they're getting themselves into.

Thank you, because clicking on a story is a huge commitment.

First you've got to aim the cursor, then it takes about two seconds to load. Then I've got to scan the thing to see how long it is.

And if I want to back out, I got to reload the page where I came from. Now, as many as eight seconds have past and I'm that much closer to the cold embrace of death.


CORNISH: By the way, Slate estimates its readers can read roughly 275 words per minute. That, admits editorial director John Swansburg, is a challenge for him and for other slower readers.

SWANSBURG: When someone says, Well, this will take you five minutes to read, I sit there and start sweating thinking: Oh, my God, what if it takes me eight minutes to read. It's going to reveal how slow a reader I am.

CORNISH: Proving once again that radio is a great equalizer, because no matter how good a listener you are this story still took exactly one minute and 58 seconds. Thanks for listening.


CORNISH: This is NPR News.

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