‘Mixed’ picture on consumer attitudes to online news charges

Reuters Institute digital report shows greater willingness among tablet owners to pay

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s  Digital News Report 2014 found that among those who don’t currently pay for digital news, there was an increase in the numbers who said they might pay in the future. Photograph: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Digital News Report 2014 found that among those who don’t currently pay for digital news, there was an increase in the numbers who said they might pay in the future. Photograph: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Thu, Jun 12, 2014, 01:00

Tablet owners in the US and UK are more likely to pay for news online than other news consumers, according to a new study.

The finding by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism supports recent investments by the news industry to develop and promote paid-for tablet apps and editions.

Overall, the Digital News Report 2014 uncovers a “mixed” picture on consumers’ attitudes to paying for online news. Despite the growing number of paywalls, only a minority of news consumers in the 10 countries surveyed have paid for digital news in the last year, with the proportions ranging from 7 per cent in the UK to 11 per cent in the US and as high as 22 per cent in urban areas of Brazil.

“Our data shows 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 per cent of online users,” the report states.

Rather than attracting more individuals to pay for news, the industry is squeezing more revenue out of a flat base of paying consumers, it suggests.

The report says there is still “reason for optimism” for established news outlets, as in most countries the majority of news consumed online still comes from established newspaper and broadcaster brands. Among those who don’t currently pay for digital news, there was an increase in the numbers who said they might pay in the future. In the UK, there was just a slight uptick in those who said they were likely to pay – from 5 per cent to 7 per cent – but consumers in Italy and Spain showed “more willingness”. The nature of payments is changing, with subscriptions now more popular relative to one-off payments such as a “day pass” or app download charge. Among consumers who pay for online news in the UK, 47 per cent now do so via a subscription. This has increased from 29 per cent in 2013, most likely as a result of the launch of the Sun and Daily Telegraph paywalls.

Based on a YouGov survey of almost 19,000 people, the Reuters report identifies changes that have already struck the fast-changing news market and forecasts future trends.