We’re sure it seemed like a brilliant idea when implemented: Stop printing newspapers, save tons of money on production costs, and simply charge your readers to view the news online. And why wouldn’t it work, they thought? If people are willing to pay for news in print, why wouldn’t they pay for that same news online?
A few years into this great news publishing experiment, and research is showing that this business model doesn’t hold water.
“Despite news organizations’ efforts to offer readers more ways to pay for digital news, only about 10 percent of online users worldwide are actually paying, according to a new report from Reuters,” notes Kristen Hare in Poynter.org.
With more than half of all news organizations in the United States using paywalls, the industry is experiencing an interesting phenomenon, according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2014.
“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,” states the report.
More tellingly, the next line in the report which indicates that, at least in the United States, the paid online news industry may have hit the wall, literally.
“…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’.”
Hare notes two other facts from the Reuters report:
- Of those who do pay for news, a higher proportion is paying for online subscriptions. The figure rose from 43 percent to 59 percent, compared with a one-off payment like a day pass or app download.
- Sixty-one percent of people who pay for their news around the world are male, more than half have a Master’s or Bachelor’s degree, and about 42 percent get their news on a tablet.
The news publishing industry seems to be in a tricky place, as they don’t appear able to convince their readers that the news is worth more than the digital screen it’s printed on. Print news had real tangible value, a quarter on the counter with your cup of coffee. Seems something’s been lost in the move to digital.