mediaXchange 2017: Cutting-Edge Solutions to Driving Subscriptions

Who pays for news?

In a new study of 2,100 adults, shared at mediaXchange 2017 on Tuesday, the American Press Institute (API) dug into who news readers are. The panel included Jennifer Benz, Principal Research Scientist and Deputy Director, AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research; Ann Poe, VP/Audience, Digital Revenue & Products, Cox Media Group; Esfand Pourmand, Senior VP of Revenue for Hearst Newspapers, Digital; Tom Rosenstiel, Executive Director, API; and Jeff Sonderman, Deputy Director, API.
Some quick stats shared included:

  • 53% of adults pay for news; of those, 54% subscribe to a newspaper.
  • 29% of the adult population subscribes to a newspaper.
  • 52% of non-payers are still active news seekers; 26% of those would be willing to pay.
  • 36% of people under age 35 pay for news in some form.

These numbers dispute the myth that millennials don’t want news, or don’t want to pay for their news. They are paying; engagement is just coming largely through social media, with Facebook still leading the distribution platforms. It is up to publishers to decide how to engage and cultivate an audience on social media without giving away the content for free.

Benz also dug deeper into what newspaper readers look like. While many are older and educated, the demographics are largely varied.

However, newspaper readers tend to be “newsier” overall, reading the news multiple times a day. They are more likely to actively search out news and consider it an important part of their day. They are civically minded and more likely to read government stories and political coverage.

Rosenstiel highlights them as the readers most likely to read the deep investigative features and local sports news.

Why do they subscribe? They perceive value from civic reasons, subject expertise and social flow (i.e. sharing information at the dinner table). The subscriptions are usually triggered by social flow, a need for subject expertise, marketing, a lifestyle change and the metered paywalls.

API released a report, but Rosenstiel highlighted what he wanted publishers to get from the data. Maintaining quality, even while newsroom sizes contract, is critical. The top motivators for people picking up the paper are reliable information, subject matter experts and entertainment. He also pointed out that mobile coupons are a largely untapped market.

“Digital readers want to save money too,” he said.

Jeff Sonderman, Deputy Director of API, pointed out that some readers did not know the full value of the content anymore. Back in the day, he said, he wouldn’t have to show someone how to get to sports coverage—they’d just flip through the paper and find it.

Now there are many entry points. “You have to show people, did you know we have this? Here is how we use it,” he said.

Ann Poe, VP/Audience, Digital Revenue & Products, Cox Media Group, talked about how to engage readers. She says it’s about really looking into the needs of your audience and listening. For a reader who is priced out of the print product, suggesting an e-edition might make them more comfortable because it feels the same, whereas a buzzy, younger person will want snappy, quick, personalized news.

Rosenstiel suggests marketing the fact that you want to listen and get better at coverage. At one paper in Pennsylvania, crime was a major issue but the content wasn’t performing well. The editors dug in and did a lot more listening. They decided when they covered a crime, it would be from arrest through trial. They’d track long-term trends and build solutions into the stories. They discussed this with readers. Engagement in crime coverage tripled in the next year.

“You have to tell people, ‘We’re trying to do better,’” he said.


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