Harris Poll says most Americans won’t pay to read news content online

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Below is the press release reprinted in full.  Blockquotes omitted.

As businesses explore best practices for success in the changing landscape created by the Internet, some companies have discussed charging for access to online content that was previously free.  Some media outlets have discussed doing this, and The New York Times recently began charging online readers who view over 20 articles per month.  But there may be trouble ahead as a recent Adweek/Harris Poll found that a large majority said they would be willing to pay “nothing” per month to read a daily newspaper’s content online (80%). Of the one in five who would pay, 14% said they would pay between $1 and $10 per month while very few said that they would be willing to pay between $11 and $20 (4%) or more than $20 per month (2%).

These are some of the findings of a new Adweek/Harris Poll, survey of 2,105 U.S. adults surveyed online between March 29 and 31, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

Interestingly, while online paywalls are becoming more common, fewer people say they would be willing to pay to read content online now, than said so in late 2009—20% say they would be willing to pay for a daily newspaper’s content online today, compared to 23% who said so in December 2009.

Other findings of the recent poll include:

  • Younger adults are more likely than those older to pay for a daily newspaper’s content online—over a quarter of adults aged 18-34 say they would (26%) compared to between 15% and 18% of all other age groups;
  • Men are more willing to pay than women are—a quarter of men say they would (25%) with 18% saying they would pay between$1 and $10 per month, while only 15% of women say they would pay anything to read a daily newspaper’s content online; and,
  • The more education a person has the more likely they are to be willing to pay to read a daily newspaper’s content online—over a quarter of college graduates say they would pay (28%) compared to one in five people who have attended some college (19%) and just 15% who have not attended any college at all.

 

So What?

Currently several major publications charge readers for their content online including the Wall Street JournalFinancial Times, and most recently The New York Times.  Unfortunately it seems that as these companies are adapting to a business environment increasingly dominated by the Internet, their readers are slower to embrace, or are resistant to, certain changes, especially when it comes to paying for something that has been free for so long.  This raises several questions and areas for more research, including: how many Americans rely on the Internet for their news content, how particular are Americans about what publication or source they go to for their news, and, how do people think that media companies with large online presences should pay for the work that they do.

TABLE 1
PAYING FOR NEWS CONTENT ONLINE
“How much, if anything, would you be willing to pay per month in order to read a daily newspaper’s content online?”
Base: All U.S. adults

Total Dec. 2009

Total

Age

Gender

Education

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

Male

Female

H.S. or less

Some college

College grad +

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Willing to pay (NET)

23

20

26

18

15

17

25

15

15

19

28

More than $20

1

2

3

2

1

1

3

1

1

1

3

$11-$20

4

4

6

2

4

3

5

3

3

3

5

$1-$10

19

14

17

14

11

13

18

11

10

15

20

Nothing

77

80

74

82

85

83

75

85

85

81

72

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding

8 Comments on Harris Poll says most Americans won’t pay to read news content online

  1. Asking people about paying something or nothing ? I have absolutely zero confidence in the accuracy and value of any such survey.

    The problem with all of the current implementations are firstly that they have not developed a global micro payments system, forcing people to devote themselves to one or two service. I believe that no progress will be made until such a system is developed. Secondly, pretty much all of the current implementations are seeking payment for a service that has been free for years and is offered in a similar manner to other parallel free services. There is no sign of a better service being offered, a more comprehensive or more customisable service

    Both of these implementation models need to be fixed before real money can be made in the news industry.

  2. While people may be backing away from paying for general content, they seem to be more willing to pay for specific content from a source they like or trust. This is one of the reasons magazine subscriptions devoted to specific subjects/focuses are still popular. So, while the Washington Post may have trouble getting paid online subscriptions, the Post Magazine might do better. Online sites devoted to certain sports, particular branches of politics or finance, social issues or sex, can do even better.

    I think the subscription model will eventually favor online outlets devoted to specific subjects, not general ones.

  3. I’d pay for a quality specialty publication, but certainly not for general news. Why would I want to pay for garbage?

  4. I actually tried to get a paid subscription for an Australian newspaper yesterday – the girl on the Help desk had to go and get technical support because no-one had ever asked her this question before. Maybe it’s going to take time for the concept to filter through.

    I agree with Ben, a special interest magazine is one thing but why pay for news when I have about 8 cable news channels 24 hours a day and internet news from BBC, ABC etc? Maybe the newspapers will have to rely on advertising like TV and radio has for years.

  5. Well contrary to you guys I would pay for general news. But not the collection of hack articles and sensationalist eyeball bait that populated so many, if not all, of the online news media web sites now. I would want better writing, better editorial control, better analysis. For that I would pay.

  6. We’d subscribe to the NY Times if they had priced it reasonably–and permitted access across devices for the same reasonable price.

    As it is, we’re shifting away from it. They really blew it… they should have had a more generous free number, coupled with a Paypal or credit card donation button, along with a subscription system.

    There was a time when we would have gladly donated–as we do to other online sites–but no longer. Plus, their cozying up to the right and doing front page publishing of Bush “leaks” to justify the Iraq War has done incomparable damage to that country and to ours!

  7. By the way, wish you all would drop the Google Analytics tracking from your site–it’s unnerving!

  8. I agree with Howard that asking people if they’d pay for something they now get free is unlikely to generate accurate answers. If you’d asked a 1970s random consumer whether they’d pay for TV, you almost certainly would have gotten less than 20% saying yes. Today, in the US at least, most people do pay for TV (and watch commercials).

    It is true that the kind of reporting the NY Times does costs more than fact-free reporting done by many popular on-line sites. It does remain an open question whether Americans are willing to pay for fact-based news… but I don’t think this survey gives the answer.

    Rob Preece
    Publisher

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