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“People willing to pay for news is growing”: Key findings from Reuters’ study on pay models

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The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has released a new report today on trends in adoption of paywalls by news organizations.

The report, Pay Models for Online News in the US and Europe: 2019 Update, examines the offerings of over 200 leading news organizations across seven countries in Europe and the US. They include newspapers, weekly newspapers or magazines, broadcasters, and digital-born news outlets.

“Paywalls are increasingly popular with publishers”

According to the report, more than two-thirds of leading newspapers (69%) across the EU and US have some kind of paywall compared to 64.5% in 2017. The US is leading in adoption rate with paywalls having gone up from 60% in 2017 to 76% now.

Going forward subscriptions will be a key priority for the news industry, with over half (52%) of the executives expecting it to be the main revenue focus in 2019.

We see that a growing number of news organizations across Europe and in the US are trying to find new, sustainable business models in order to make up for the revenue shortfall caused by a rapidly changing business environment. In this context, paywalls are increasingly popular with publishers, who are challenging the assumption that people will not pay for digital news.

Felix Simon, Research Assistant at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and lead author of the report

For the study, pay model offerings were sorted into three categories. They include hard paywalls (no free access), ‘freemium’ models (a mix of free and premium content) and metered paywalls (limited number of free articles each month).

Overall, more than half (53%) of the news organizations in the study continue to offer free access. And around 52% of weekly newspapers and news magazines operate a pay model, which is down by 10 percentage points from 2017.

It was found that hard paywalls that completely restrict free access are very rare. All broadcasters, including those from the private sector, as well as public service media like the BBC in the UK, or Yle in Finland were free.

Additionally, 94% of digital-born news outlets continue to offer free access to their content. Mediapart in France and the Independent in the UK were the only digital-born/digital-only organizations in the study that had paywalls.

According to the authors, “Given recent disruptions in this space, it remains an open question how long this trend will continue and whether we will see a shift to pay models over the next several years.” Among newspapers, the landscape is almost equally divided between free access, freemium and metered paywall.

The authors note that some news organizations that offer free access might, in a few cases, ask for other forms of compensation. For example, UK’s the Guardian and Germany’s die tageszeitung (taz) request readers to become supporters and offer them options to donate.

Among the news organizations with paywalls, the current average price for the cheapest available monthly subscription (without discounts) is €14.09 (£12.21)—it’s similar to 2017. Prices range from €2 (£1.74) to €41.50 (£36) a month.

Not evenly distributed

Pay models are not evenly distributed across countries but tied to the individual circumstances of each market. The US is dominated by metered paywall solutions while freemium models are preferred across Europe.

A majority of the top newspapers and newsweeklies in Finland, France, Germany, Poland, and the United States have adopted pay models. However, in Italy and the United Kingdom, they continue to offer free access to digital news.

That, according to the authors, is because these are very competitive markets where even leading titles may fear losing market share if they implement pay models.

Monthly prices also vary dramatically across titles and countries. Poland has the lowest average monthly price at €9.27 (£8.04) for its newspapers and weeklies.

The UK has the lowest percentage of newspapers and weeklies with pay models (33%) but the highest average monthly price at €17.45 (£15.12), which goes up to €41.50 (£36) for the Financial Times.

More people are willing to pay for news

Overall, the United States has seen a sharper rise in paywalls compared to the EU. Around 48% of US outlets in the study have a paywall, compared to 38% in 2017. In the EU the figure stands at 46% which is just one percent increase over 2017.

According to the authors, paywalls are likely here to stay. Lead author of the report Felix Simon, says, “Recent research shows that the number of people willing to pay for news is slowly growing.

“The challenge for news organizations now is to deliver such quality content, and the kind of user experience and convenience that people have come to expect from digital media, and to market their offers to the many who are currently not paying for journalism, but might do so in the future.”

Click here to download Reuters’ Pay Models for Online News

Download WNIP’s comprehensive report—50 Ways to Make Media Pay—an essential read for publishers looking at the multiple revenue opportunities available, whether it’s to reach new audiences or double down on existing super-users. The report is free and can be downloaded here.