Over the last year there has been intense activity in the news industry in devising more ways to pay for news. Metered or hard paywalls have become standard in many countries including the United States where a recent survey showed over half of all newspapers operating them. In Germany, leading publisher Axel Springer recruited over 150,000 subscribers for its premium service Bild Plus in the six months since its launch in June 2013. Over one third have also signed up for a service of digital goals from the Bundesliga via Bild. In the UK, the popular Sun newspaper has followed a similar model and attracted over 100,000 new digital subscribers.
But 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 ANY online news in last year
Even so, our findings are consistent with the recent Pew research report in the United States which suggests that industry activity does not necessarily mean more individuals are paying for news but rather that ‘more revenue is being squeezed out of a smaller, or at least flat, number of paying consumers’.1
In support of this conclusion, our data have picked up significant changes in types of payment being made. The proportion of those paying for news who have an online news subscription has grown from to 43% to 59% – compared with a one-off payment like a day pass or app download.
In the next figure we can see that digital subscriptions in the UK have risen from 29% to 47%, as a proportion of all of those who have paid – most likely because of the Sun and Daily Telegraph paywalls. In Spain, the number of one-off purchases has grown – individual copies of epapers are popular here – while in Denmark, Finland, and the United States we see the highest prevalence of bundled (print and digital) subscriptions.
Proportion of news payments: Subscription vs one off payment
Of those who are paying for news, the majority are well educated and from higher income groups.
- 61% are male
- 35% are aged 55+
- 52% have a Masters/Doctoral OR Bachelors degree
- 89% say they are very or extremely interested in news
- 43% use a tablet for news
The majority of subscriptions are for the biggest news brands or for those delivering financial news. In the United States 30% of those subscribing to a digital news service paid for the New York Times, 32% for a local or city paper, and 16% for the Wall Street Journal. The Times in the United Kingdom, Bild in Germany, Le Monde in France, and El Mundo in Spain are leading the pack in paid news in their countries.
In a number of countries we also explored the motivations for subscription (see chart in the executive summary) and in the United Kingdom also asked why people continued to pay. A key motivation for signing up is the desire to access the brand they enjoy whenever and wherever they want – a key advantage of new devices such as smartphones and tablets. Once signed up for an online service, the quality of the product is the key factor in whether they stay and renew their subscription. This may relate to the quality of specific writers, of a particular section or of the news coverage itself, but overall two-thirds (67%) signed up for quality of content, 80% stayed because of it.
Reasons for signing up and reasons for staying – UK
- 37% pay for The Times online
- 23% pay for the Telegraph online (either digital only or part of a bundle)
- 20% pay for the Sun which has introduced a hard paywall with premiership goals as part of its offer
The importance of tablets and smartphones as a way of enticing new subscribers is reinforced by data (see the figure), which show that tablet users in particular are roughly twice as likely to pay for news as the overall sample in both the UK and US. Personal income also pays a role in willingness to pay.
Factors influencing payment for news – US and UK – Paid online content by device
Factors influencing payment for news – US and UK – Paid for digital content by personal income (UK)
Because tablet and smartphone users tend to be wealthier, better educated, and more interested in news, we wanted to understand if the nature of the device itself (e.g. the ease of payment through the Google or Apple stores) could be encouraging payment. When running a statistical model controlling for variables such as interest in news, education, and income, we do find a significant positive correlation with device in the case of Apple tablets – in the UK and the US, as well as for non-Apple tablets in the UK. We do not, however, find a positive correlation for smartphones using any operating system, probably because news organisations have mainly been focusing their monetisation and marketing on the tablet editions.
Impact of device on payment after controlling for variables – US and UK
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|Tablet (other manufacturer)||NSS*||112%|
Summary of the regression model in the UK and US when assessing the impact of device and controlling for interest in news, education and income (more detail at digitalnewsreport.org)
*NSS We did not find a statistically significant relation in this example. Elsewhere results are significant at the 95% confidence level. Percentages in the cells tell us by how much the likelihood of paying or sharing news online changes.
For those who aren’t currently paying for digital news, a significant percentage expects to pay at some point in the future. Consumers in Italy and Spain show more willingness than those in Northern European countries. In the United Kingdom, we see a slight increase in the number of UK consumers that would consider paying for digital content in the future – from 5% to 7%.
Among them, younger age groups and those with a tablet or smartphone are more likely to pay.
Likelihood to pay for digital news in the future by country – 2013 (UK)
Likelihood to pay for digital news in the future by country – 2014 (UK)
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|Likely to pay|
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|18-24||25-34||35-44||45-54||55+||Smartphone owner||Tablet owner||Computer owner|
|% likely to pay||13%||12%||7%||5%||3%||9%||11%||5%|
Q7aii. You said you have not paid for online digital content in the last year. How likely or unlikely would you be to pay IN THE FUTURE for online news from particular sources that you like?
Base: All countries. All those who have not paid (various)
- Pew, State of the News Media Report (2014). ↩