With returns from digital display advertising continuing to disappoint, more publishers are trying to sell individual digital subscriptions and membership schemes or persuade consumers to donate money. But this new research prepared by Kantar Media for the Reuters Institute suggests that consumers may be more interested in paying for experiences that aggregate multiple news brands and perspectives. Quality of content, brand benefits and convenience will also need to improve markedly if news organisations are to succeed in charging for news online it suggests. The research is based on a series of focus groups held in four countries (UK, US, Finland and Spain) exploring attitudes to paying for online news and digital advertising.
Many consumers say they would be prepared to pay for online news, but the widespread availability of ‘free news in most countries means they see little incentive to do so today. On the other hand, where charging for news is more typical (e.g. Finland) and the number of sources is limited, it is more widely accepted.
The 2017 Digital News Report found that young people were as likely to pay for news as older groups with these focus groups suggesting that this may be related to their widespread use of Netflix/Amazon Prime and Spotify. Participants often use these services as a reference price for value – for example asking if a news subscription is worth twice as much as a £9.99 per month film subscription.
Aggregated services that bundle multiple news brands were generally considered more appealing to consumers – young and old – than subscribing to a single news provider. But these services need to be comprehensive and contain the most valuable brands.
Reasons for paying for online news
Those that do pay for online news say they do so for a variety of reasons; the quality of content; the brand benefits; and the convenience provided by the news platform. In most cases, the value comes from the combination of these benefits.
Donation models (e.g. the Guardian) were considered attractive to some, but most participants felt it was inappropriate for commercial companies to ask for ‘handouts’. This view was particularly strong in the United States, with more sympathy for models based on donation and crowdsourcing in Europe.
Membership of a news organisation that provided additional personal benefits were of some interest as this concept tapped into idea of convenience and aggregation, but the main motivation was around personal value rather than saving commercial companies.
Related to this, the focus group participants showed very little public awareness or sympathy for the funding problems of the news industry (except in the United States). The abundance of digital advertising on news sites and the giving away of free newspapers in shops and airports suggested to many the opposite – ‘news companies must be doing very well’. When the problems were explained, there was concern, for many, about the potential loss of investigative reporting and good writing. But the majority felt any funding shortfall was a problem for the news industry not for the consumer. A vocal minority felt that some brands did not deserve to survive.