Richard Fletcher of the Reuters Institute has produced an in-depth analysis of the top reasons people around the world gave for paying for news online.
The Digital News Report 2017 included interviews of more than 70,000 adults in 36 countries.
Fletcher observed that the most common reasons people gave for paying were they wanted access on their mobile devices (30 percent), they like to consume news from a range of sources (29 percent), or they were offered a good deal or package (23 percent).
My take on Fletcher's data: The message to digital news publishers should be clear: they need to make sure their content displays rapidly and adapts well to the small screen — responsive design. Also, they should be testing various prices and packages for online content to see which ones produce the best returns.
Other top reasons given for paying for digital news suggested that consumers are willing to pay for information that is of high quality, differentiated and convenient to access:
- My favorite news source does not allow free access, 17 percent
- It was the only way I could access specialist information 17 percent
- I like to have access to information that most people do not 17 percent
- There were benefits from membership other than news access 16 percent
- It was cheaper than paying for offline access 16 percent
- News you pay for is better than free news 16 percent
Given the growing importance of users rather than advertisers as the primary revenue source for news media, this survey offers many clues to sustainability.
Publishers should take a page from the Amazon playbook: the retail giant focuses on making the user experience as easy, rewarding, and personalized as possible.
The depth and breadth of this survey gives news publishers across the spectrum — size, development stage, platform, region and country — plenty of clues as to how to refine their business models. It's a great tool.
The U.S. grew fastest
Among Fletcher's other observations: in the U.S., the percentage paying for online news jumped from 9 percent to 16 percent in just one year, more than any other country. The reason? Fletcher suggested "a political shock."
The data showed that much of that growth in the U.S. came from the young and those leaning left on the political spectrum. When asked to give their reasons for paying for news, the U.S. had the most respondents (29 percent) of all 36 countries who selected the option "I want to help fund journalism."
An optimistic interpretation for the future of the Fourth Estate could be that the U.S. consumer recognizes the importance of journalism to a healthy democracy.
James Breiner is a former ICFJ Knight Fellow who launched and directed the Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Guadalajara. Visit his websites News Entrepreneurs and Periodismo Emprendedor en Iberoamérica.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr Hamza Butt