The terms Implied reader/actual reader are invented by Wolfgang Iser and discussed by him in his books The Implied Reader (1974) and The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (1976, trans. 1978).
According to Wolfgang Iser, “an implied reader is a hypothetical figure who is likely to get most of what the author intended.” When an author writes a book or article they do so with certain readers in mind and they believe that those known as the implied reader will understand or appreciate the metaphors and ironies which the author as written. An implied reader is, after all, someone who can understand what the author has written and also is able to understand the complexity of things such as the metaphors which are used by the author in their books or articles. The implied reader is also someone who is able to create text by themselves.
According to Iser, the actual reader may eventually manage to get through the book, such as when one is struggling to enjoy it because the book is either too complex or they do not understand the metaphors and ironies which the author has written, as a result, they do not really grasp the nuances of the text. The actual reader will see things differently from the implied reader
The ‘implied reader’ is a ‘model’ or ‘role’. Such a reader is active as well as passive; the text structures his or her response, but he or she also produces meaning and has the task of ‘consistency building’ (the expression used by Iser). The ‘actual reader’, by contrast, receives mental images while reading; but these images are, inevitably perhaps, modified by the experience and knowledge (and thus other images) which the reader brings to the text. The hypothetical implied and actual reader co-exist, are one and the same person responding to a text in different ways and at different levels of consciousness. This view of the reader can be taken in conjunction with Umberto Eco’s distinction between the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ text.