STUDY: Most Readers Still Not Willing to Pay for News


A timeless maxim that we just made up holds that people are, in general, hesitant to pay for things you once gave them for free. Unfortunately for media brands, a new survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism confirms that the same principle very much applies to news.

Amusing coincidence: we found said survey behind a big pink paywall at Financial Times. Here’s the free press release version.

Only 10% of a group of 19,000 people in 10 countries said they’d be willing to pay for digital news–a number unchanged since 2012.

In other words, get ready for further disruption to the news model. But wait: these numbers might not be quite as bad as they seem…

While the number of readers willing to pay for single stories, buy “day passes” or download apps hasn’t budged, the percentage who subscribe to individual outlets has increased. Still, the number who have paid for news in any form over the past year is depressingly small:

  • 7% in the UK
  • 11% in the US
  • 22% in Brazil (suckers!)

It’s all about social and mobile, of course: consumers now prefer to consume their news in “discrete chunks” via social posts on their smartphones. Here’s another important demographic observation:

  • Those who subscribe are disproportionately educated and well-off, and they prefer big-name outlets that include business/financial news
  • Among young people, “weird news” like the many, many Gawker posts out of Florida tends to outperform your standard celebrity gossip


Also: despite a recent Cisco study finding that as much as 84% of web traffic will be driven by video in 2018, news orgs aren’t having as much success as they would like with original video content. It’s a work in progress.

There’s one more golden nugget in this field of negativity: another Reuters press release tells us that individual journalists now have more power than ever when it comes to driving readers to a given source–and encouraging them to pay for it.

This finding may explain The Grey Lady’s decision to try and monetize its op-ed writers a bit more with a new app. It also strongly reinforces the value of getting a client mentioned in, say, a tech roundup by Farhad Manjoo.

To summarize: journalism brands aren’t dead. But the pace of change isn’t slowing down, either–and they’re all still sprinting to keep up.

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