The decline in print sales and print advertising has put renewed pressure on newspaper groups to find new sources of digital revenue. But the transition remains anything but straightforward. Returns from digital advertising have been falling for years, made worse by lower rates on mobile. But in general, only a few specialist publishers or heritage brands have been able to charge significant amounts for content in a world when there is so much free news available.
After a sharp upturn in 2012–13 – when a large number of paywalls were introduced – our data show very little change in the absolute number of people paying for digital news over the past year. In most countries the number paying for any news is hovering around 10% of online users and in some cases less than that.
Percentage paying for online news by country
Base: Total sample in each country.
Q7ai. Which, if any, of the following ways have you used to pay for ONLINE news content in the last year?
Base: All who paid for online news UK = 127, US = 255, France = 172, Germany = 142, Denmark = 266, Finland = 207, Italy = 244, Spain = 217, Japan = 196, Brazil = 472, Australia = 213, Ireland = 107.
These headline figures, however, mask very different yields from paid content online. The US, Australia, and the UK are three countries where news companies have been pushing hard to sign users up to digital or combined subscription packages. In all three countries these ongoing payments now stand at around 70% of all receipts for paid content. By contrast, in Spain smaller one-off payments are the norm.
Breakdown in monthly payments for online news – UK
Breakdown in monthly payments for online news – US
Breakdown in monthly payments for online news – Australia
Breakdown in monthly payments for online news – Spain
We can use this data, combined with data about the size of the adult population, to make a rough estimate of the total online news revenue in each country. Despite a smaller overall percentage paying for news, the total revenue in the UK is roughly double that of Spain due to the higher average payment and larger population.
The picture does not get much better when we ask whether – and how much – people would be prepared to pay online in the future – for brands that they like.