Quality, Exclusivity and Mission Top Reasons Why People Pay for News

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What makes us pay for news? In a survey last year by the American Press Institute, the #1 reason cited by subscribers (more than 40%) was that the publication they pay for excels at covering certain topics about which they particularly care.  Almost as high a percentage for subscribing was that friends and family subscribe to the same product.

Hail to the power of referrals.

A site called Disqus recently polled readers and commenters about whether or not they pay for online news and why. "By examining the current sentiment around paying for news, we hope to provide publishers with insights that will help them build successful businesses supported by loyal, engaged readers."

Of the 1,215 people surveyed, 30% of respondents said that they have paid for online news in the last year. Just over 1/3 of those people said that they pay because they want to read high-quality content "on topics I care about from a publication I trust." Other reasons for paying for content are:

  • Support a publication's mission and success.
  • My favorite news source has a paywall.
  • Access to information that most people do not.
  • Access to exclusive benefits besides content - webinars, events, deals.

That idea of supporting a mission also came up in the API survey, especially when it came to young people. The Washington Post recently went to a new slogan in their front-page banner: "Democracy Dies in Darkness." You can almost feel the tilt towards a mission.

"With so much free content readily available on the web, publishers have to provide a compelling value proposition that readers believe is worth paying for," wrote Disqus. "Furthermore, readers increasingly see journalism as a critical institution that needs more funding.

"The most common reason why people pay for online news is for access to high quality content from a publication they like. Readers consider news to be high quality if the content isn't clickbait, the reporting is unbiased, and the publisher is considered trustworthy."

The three most popular reasons why people don't pay for news, according to the Disqus study, are:

  • The same news content can be found for free elsewhere online.
  • There isn't a publication I like/trust enough to pay for access to their content.
  • Subscriptions are too expensive.

In their takeaways, the API study recommended "leveraging the power of coupons in digital. While it has not fully developed online and in mobile, publishers should more robustly pursue a strategy of moving coupons into digital, and particularly mobile formats, as part of their subscription strategies. Print subscribers often cite coupons as one of the benefits they value, but digital audiences are not as well-served."

In the Disqus survey, only about 6% cited discounts as their reason to subscribe. But that could also be, as the API study points out, that digital discounts aren't as prevalent yet.

Other takeaways from the API study include:

  • Identify and invest in centers of coverage excellence.
  • Focus on the "news seekers." About 1 in 3 of these who don't pay now say they would be at least a little likely to pay in the future.
  • Target changing lifestyles.
  • Look at your pricing. "People who currently pay for a subscription tend to think it is relatively inexpensive. Most think the price they pay is a very good or fair value. Only 1 in 10 people think their subscription costs too much for what they get."
  • Reach out to younger people, but you'll need to get across your mission and establish a strong social media presence.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…
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