Does Anyone Read PDFs?

June 18, 2014

As publishers, brand managers, marketers and content managers, we consider content integral to what we do. Whether it’s to inform the masses, to entertain, to increase brand awareness or just to bump SEO, the goal remains the same: to be read.
How we get our content “out there” may vary, but many opt for the PDF, or portable document format. The PDF has been used (and abused) by content creators as a quick, easy way to get downloadable content online: one quick conversion from a Word document creates a PDF document ripe for posting to any website. But does the PDF actually work?
In the case of the World Bank, the answer is “no.” The World Bank, an international organization that provides financial assistance to developing countries, is known for producing hundreds of well-researched, informative reports for targeted audiences. The information provided in their documents are cited by top media and scholarly sources. Yet few of their reports are actually downloaded. Why? According to the article from Priceonomics, “Does Anyone Ever Read PDFs” the lack of downloads is not due to content quality, but the poor experience of the PDF. The article reports:

“Complaints against PDFs are legion. They take time to download and require a plug-in. They are hard to navigate, as you can’t link people between sections, which also means they can become unmanageably large. (Since a 5,000 page report cannot be broken up into parts.) And, as one commentator adds, ‘that little disembodied hand [used to scroll in PDFs] is just freaky.”

When was the last time you downloaded a PDF sent via email? Were you like me and used the google preview function to see if the download would even be worth the extra time, opening a PDF reader, and scrolling through to the content I was interested in?
Whether sent via email or posted on a website, PDFs require extra time and clicks to read, and they take you out of whatever environment you were in and away from whatever you were doing. Sharing a PDF or linking from it to another online source is clunky at best, making it difficult for readers to spread your content. Throw in that PDFs created from Word docs are not concerned about how the text or images appear on a screen and the whole PDF experience is elevated from being a hassle to being truly terrible.
Your content doesn’t have to be like this. Free your content and your readers from the terrible experience of PDFs and stand out from the rest by embracing digital. Consider some of the very basic benefits you get by providing a better reading experience with digital:

While the above answers the direct complaints against PDFs, they also add the ability for optimized screen reading, animation capabilities, and are all indexed by search engines without extra effort from you. Digital is the next step in your readers’ evolution of expectations. Stop subjecting your readers to PDFs that they don’t want to download. You both deserve better.


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