Online Magazine Reading Study

We conducted a survey in late 2016 and two focus groups in January 2017 to find out more about our patrons' online magazine reading habits and preferences, and their reactions to an online magazine platform.


As NCSU Libraries considers online magazine reading platforms -- possibly for some popular titles to supplement our print collection, or to provide online access to magazines while we use print copies for our archival collection -- we wanted to hear patron's voices about their online magazine reading habits and preferences, and their reactions to an app.

Research Questions

  • Do our users read magazines?
  • If so, do they prefer electronic or print access or do they not have a preference?
  • Would our users be interested in an online magazine platform?

What we found

Do they read magazines?

  • Majority indicated yes in both survey and focus groups

Digital vs. Print:

  • Survey: 63 preferred electronic, 42 preferred electronic, 42 had no preference
  • Focus groups: about equal

Popular venues for online magazine reading:

  • Magazine-specific apps
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • News aggregators bundled with their device's operating system

Arguments participants made for digital:

  • More convenient
  • Print wastes a lot of paper on ads

Arguments participants made for print:

  • When you buy it you own it
  • Easier on the eyes

Usability issues that emerged during the focus groups:

  • Filtering functionality of the app is very basic.
  • The app provides an additional zoom function that, unlike native zoom, does not pixelate. This confused participants.
  • The layout for magazines in the app is still based on the print version and thus not as well adapted to mobile devices as some magazines' dedicated mobile apps.

Recommendations and Changes

The Collections & Research Strategy department will reflect on the feedback from the survey and focus groups when they evaluate online magazine tools.

How We Did It

The Libraries' User Research Team maintains a list of students willing to receive periodic offers to participate in user research projects. In November 2016 we surveyed that list of 396 and received 147 responses. The survey questions asked about students' online magazine reading habits and preferences. An incentive for the survey was that one respondent won a portable phone charger.

The survey also asked if respondents would be willing to participate in focus groups. We held 2 focus groups in January, one with six participants and another with four. Eka Grguric, Libraries Fellow, facilitated the focus groups. Grguric guided participants to use an app on an iPad, think aloud, answer questions, and discuss with the group. We incentivized the focus groups with boxed lunches.

Further information for NCSU Libraries staff