Are people actually reading your PDF reports?

Are people reading your PDF reports?

The PDF is like the broccoli of content. Organizations produce them because they’re comprehensive, authoritative, and often required for regulatory compliance. But despite their “nutritiousness,” nobody really likes consuming PDFs, especially if we’re talking about 100+ pages of dense text and data.

Which is a shame, because organizations put an enormous amount of work into producing PDF reports, and the insights and data they contain are often invaluable to communicate to the public.

Here’s three big problems with PDFs—and three ways your organization can get around them.

Problem #1: People don’t like downloading PDFs.

According to a 2014 report from the World Bank, nearly a third of the World Bank’s PDF reports are never downloaded. (And since the World Bank's report is itself a pdf, chances are you won’t want to download it either!)

Adobe developed the Portable Document Format in the early 1990’s, when the Web was young and exchanging files over the Internet was a major way people exchanged information. Fast forward 25 years and things have changed. Web readers expect to consume information directly on web pages—not on files they have to download and open. While modern web browsers on desktops and laptops can load and display PDFs, mobile web browsing is another story. And mobile devices, like tablets and phones, are how most people interact with content on the Internet today.

Indeed, the strengths of the Portable Document Format become weaknesses on mobile. PDFs are great at maintaining layout and design for printed pages, but a smartphone screen is much smaller than an 8x11 piece of paper—so viewing a PDF on a phone means squinting at tiny text, or zooming in and scrolling back and forth. No wonder few people want to download PDFs.

Solution: Turn your PDF into web pages.

Web publishing software is widely available. LiveStories offers a mobile-friendly web publishing platform specially designed for government organizations. At its heart, a PDF is just a collection of text, headings, and images—all easily translatable into content that lives on webpages.

Problem #2: People don’t read online content—they skim.

It’s not uncommon for PDFs to run 100 pages or more. Consider the hoops that a reader must jump through in order to consume such a report. First, they need to find it and download it. Then, they’ll need to either commit a few hours staring at their computer monitor, or else commit a forest’s worth of paper to print it out.

And that’s assuming your reader doesn’t get distracted. Most readers do! Research indicates that the Internet is conditioning us to skim content, rather than truly read it. We humans like instant payoffs. And for content, that means scanning the bold text and headlines to get a rough sense of the main points of content, rather than doing the hard work and reading sentence-by-sentence.

Solution: Embrace the skimmers and provide high-level summaries.

One big advantage webpages have over PDFs is that they are inherently interactive. Readers choose what to click on, which means they can skim until they find content they’d like to explore more deeply. 

Take advantage of our propensity to skim and arrange the major points of your PDF as headings on a webpage. Headings help direct and capture readers’ attention. They also break up content into digestible “chunks.” For readers who want to dive deeper, you can always supply links to further information—or to the original PDF itself.  

Problem #3: Videos and interactive content have spoiled us.

When the PDF format was first created, web pages couldn’t display much more than text and small pictures. Now every major website has beautiful imagery. Videos play automatically on our social network feeds. Every piece of web content invites us to hover, click, tap, or swipe. PDFs simply can’t compete.

Solution: Introduce interactivity into your report.

Videos are a great way to grab readers’ attention. On LiveStories, you can embed YouTube and Vimeo videos directly into your published content.

Some topics—especially for governmental organizations—are a bit too abstract for videos. That’s where charts and maps come in. While some readers might shudder at the thought of dealing with math and numbers, a good chart or map is inherently visual. On LiveStories, these visualizations are also interactive—you can hover and see more information, or filter to drill down into a subset of the data.


You may not be able to ditch PDFs entirely. But by publishing the main points in your PDF on a website with visual, interactive content, you can get more bang for your buck—by ensuring more people understand the valuable information contained in your report.

Request a demo today and learn how LiveStories can help your organization communicate the findings and data in your PDF reports.