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Why people prefer print to online TV listings

It is commonplace nowadays to predict the inexorable decline of print as it is steadly replaced by online information. Without wishing to be a luddite, I an intrigued when there are examples of print surviving and even prospering in the face of digital competition, especially when dealing with the display of information in a typical situation where users are seeking an answer. A recent Financial Times article pointed out that TV listings guides are not losing circulation – which is not what many commentators predicted. One common argument is that TV print magazines sell to an ageing audience who prefer print to online; but in fact, TV listing guides comprise three of the top five UK magazine circulations, with the top spot held by TV Choice – a print magazine that has increased its circulation by 63% since 2000, the very period when you might expect its circulation to be falling. What is it that people find so compelling about print TV guides?

It’s not as if this information were not available for free. All the major TV guides (I looked at TV Choice and Radio Times) have a website listing today’s programmes across all the major channels; and this listing is available free. But the layout of the listings leaves something to be desired. Here is TV Choice online version:

TV Choice Online listing

 

And here is the Radio Times online version:

Radio Times online listing

 

It is interesting to contrast these with a typical print guide, this one from the Guardian weekly TV guide:

 

 

Which one is more useful? Which one would you choose to refer to? My preference was for the print, and my detailed survey of  two other users confirmed my views. My feeling is that the print guide presents far more information in a single glance than either of the online guides.

 

Perhaps, for all the work done by usability experts and interface designers, the Web version remains inferior to print in that print can show a summary much more effectively than a screen can; the density of information in the print versions far higher, and yet the print remains intelligible. As Douglas McCabe from Enders Analysis states, “Print is simply the best execution for people who want to browse the schedules … No one has come up with a better execution on a TV, or on a website.”