Will Anyone Pay for the News Online?


Not too many will, according to a recent UK study published by Oliver & Ohlbaum, a media consultancy.  O & O surveyed British newspaper readers and subscribers about where and how they accessed their news on the Internet. Not surprisingly, Britons are similar to their North American cousins.  They are promiscuous content grazers who do not want to pay for online versions of newspapers they willingly purchase offline.  And why should they?  Readers have enjoyed free and unfettered access to the vast majority of newspaper content for well over a decade. 

However, other findings in the study are more interesting and will challenge the conventional wisdom of most newspaper pundits:

Conventional Wisdom:  People will buy their favourite newspaper and visit its website for the same content plus value-added offering such as videos and blogs 

Finding: People buy one newspaper but usually frequent other newspaper’s online properties.  For example, fans of the Daily Telegraph, Britain’s most popular daily paper, got just 8% of their online news at its web site.  Instead, these readers spent twice as much time at other newspaper web sites.

Finding:  People not only ignore their favourite daily’s web site but they tend to move down market and to other media channels.  For example, Daily Telegraph readers preferred to read online tabloids like the Sun and the Daily Mirror over their own or other similar quality online newspapers.  Conversely, Sun and Daily Mirror readers tended to visit higher quality newspaper web sites more often than their favourite tabloid web sites.  Interestingly, more than twice as many Daily Telegraph readers frequented a non-newspaper online news site, the BBC, than visited the Daily Telegraph web site.

Conventional Wisdom:  Online news aggregators like Google News, Yahoo!News and the Drudge Report are attracting newspaper readers directly away from newspaper web sites.

Finding:  Most people continue to visit directly their preferred newspaper web site versus going through an aggregator.  It appears that most readers do not understand or value enough the convenience of an aggregator and prefer to search for news themselves.

Conventional Wisdom:  Coordinated attempts by newspapers to charge for their content may be their best hope to finally create a profitable online subscription or content access model.

Finding:  People will strongly resist paying even if all newspapers begin charging for online content.  For example, when Guardian readers were asked to pay £2 per month to read their favourite newspaper online, only 26% said yes.  However, when the same people were asked the same question under a scenario where all equivalent newspapers charged for content, only 16% expressed a willingness to pay for their Guardian.  On the surface, this is a surprising result given that one would have expected the proportion willing to pay for their preferred paper to rise in a level-playing field.  Apparently, readers have gotten so used to getting their news for free “when needed, as needed” that they will strongly resist attempts by one or all newspapers to change the industry access paradigm.

North American newspaper executives should hesitate before jumping to conclusions from this study.   North American readers are not the same as UK ones, industry dynamics vary by market and the questions and scenarios were hypothetical. However, these findings do challenge the existing industry orthodoxy and should be considered.  However, newspaper owners should tread carefully with major access changes and think creatively about how they can modify a reader’s ingrained behaviours.

For more information on services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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1 comment so far

  1. […] and facilitators. For example, leading publications like Bloomberg and The Economist have begun charging higher fees for their subscriptions and have enacted online pay walls. Importantly, they are also exploiting their extensive content and […]


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