Helen, I think I know the reason everyone’s Average Read Time has dropped dramatically.
Every time someone sees a story of yours, it is counted as a view. If they see it on your Profile page and scroll past it, that second or two is counted as a Read also.
This was designed to help those writing very short stories (like 1 minute poetry) that could be read in their entirety on your Profile page. This is a good thing for those of us writing microfiction, short humor, poetry, etc.
Since the reader may not click on the story, Medium counts the time spent reading the story on your Profile page.
Every time someone scrolls your Profile page, you get a second or two Read time for any stories they scroll past. So if you get a lot of scrolls that aren’t really reads, they bump up your number of Reads and therefore lower the Average Read Time.
I had a one 5 minute story get 14 “reads” in one day, but only 10 minutes Read time. Obviously, not all of the readers actually read the story. Maybe 10-12 readers just scrolled past the story. Yet those scrolls counted as seconds-long Reads and lowered my average Read time.
So it is a new way of counting Reads that is going to make the average Read time far lower for everyone.
I wish Medium would be more transparent in how their stats and MPP payments actually work.