Reuters: People Now More Willing to Pay for Online News

People are now more willing to pay for online news, although most still choose not to, according to a survey undertaken by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ).


More than 11,000 people in nine countries participated in the online poll, according to the BBC — which, along with Google and the media regulator Ofcom, were among the study’s sponsors.

The study indicates that the number of web users who read paid-for content in the UK had more than  doubled to nine percent over the past 10 months alone.  The researchers observed a similar increase among web users in the United States, France and Germany.

In the US, ownership of a smartphone or tablet seemed to encourage payments.  The researchers found that this was particularly true of consumers who owned mobile devices manufactured by Apple.

Some 12 percent of those surveyed in the US said they read paid-for content.  The figure is three percent more than last year.

A gathering trend

“The data indicate, on average, 10 percent of people have paid for news in some digital form — about one third higher than last year,” Professor Robert Picard, RISJ director of research, said.  “Public affairs magazines are finding it easier to get the public to pay than newspapers, especially on tablets, because digital payments for magazines are becoming the norm and they offer news analysis and commentary in ways general news sources do not.”

Web users aged 25 to 34 years old appeared most ready to pay, the study suggests, and men were more willing than women.

The researchers noted that the trend was less pronounced in the UK, possibly because many phone service providers (more info) and news apps in that country offer news for free, and because some types of publications found it easier than others.

Writing on the pay wall?

The internet has become the most important source of news for people in Spain, Italy, Japan and urban Brazil, the study suggests.  In Germany, France, Denmark, the UK and the US, however, most people still relied on television.

The BBC notes that the research will be of particular interest to newspapers.  The Sun, Daily Telegraph, Bild and Washington Post are all constructing paywalls this year.

Newspaper organizations are facing huge competition from the likes of Google, blogs and other online news sources.  Newspapers have suffered declining sales and advertising revenues as a result.

But profits of the the New York Times tripled recently as a surge in online subscriptions more than compensated for the weak demand for advertising space.  The newspaper introduced a paywall on its website almost two years ago.

There are now over 300 newspaper paywalls in the US alone.  Because paywalls are a relatively new innovation, however, there has been little research around them.

The young favor online news

In all the countries covered by the RISJ study, the researchers found that the young were more likely to favor online news sources.  Those over 45 much preferred television.

Despite the wide range of choices, however, web users tended to rely on a small number of news sources, suggesting that brands play an important role.  Yahoo, for instance, was the most popular online news source in the US and Japan.

“Our data show that there still is a yearning — in an ocean of content — for trusted news across a range of subject areas, but newer brands like Yahoo and the Huffington Post are also proving they can fill that role alongside a raft of specialist providers, blogs and social media too,” said Nic Newman, the report’s editor.

Still, 30 percent of the respondents in Germany, Spain, Italy, France urban Brazil and Japan claimed they did not notice which sites they were using.

“One key factor in reducing brand recognition appears to be social media,” observed Mr. Newman.  “Heavy social media users in the UK are more likely to agree that they don’t notice which sites they are using.”