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PCUK/Harris Poll: Only Five Percent Of Readers Would Pay For Online News

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If Rupert Murdoch thinks readers will pay to read his websites, maybe he should think again. Exclusive research commissioned by paidContent:UK from Harris Interactive shows that most readers would run a mile.

— If their favourite news site begins charging for access to content, three quarters of people would simply switch to an alternative free news source, people who read a free news site at least once a month told us.

Just five percent of those readers would choose to pay to continue reading the site.

Eight percent would continue reading the site’s free headlines only.

— And 12 percent of respondents are not sure what they would do.

The findings are the first to be released from our research (read paidContent:UK on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for more on price points and models). They will serve as a warning to publishers considering a paid content strategy.

Bitten by the low prices of online ads and the recent slowdown in advertising generally, News Corp (NYSE: NWS) is not alone in re-examining the financial viability of online news provision. Other publishers, too, are considering models including charging-for-content, readers’ clubs with value-added extras, selling physical merchandise and memorabilia and even reader donations.

Although, as our recent analysis showed, newspapers have continually hiked their print cover prices over the last few years, they opted to let web news go free when the web took off more than a decade ago. Those that now opt to charge for stories will have a hard time squeezing back in to the bottle a genie that has been out for all this time.

“This does not look like good news for a pay model in a competitive environment,” says Andrew Freeman, Harris’ senior media research consultant. “As long as free alternatives exist, consumers will turn to them for their daily news information, meaning heavy losses in terms of audience figures for those that charge. It remains to be seen whether the news industry will take the leap and begin charging for that which has been free for so long.”

We think the question for news publishers is this: is five percent of your readership (that’s the number who tell us they would pay) enough to offset the decline in advertising revenue that would come with putting your site behind a pay wall?

Let’s go in to more detail…

Age: Those who have money are less likely to pay
— Younger readers are more likely to pay than older – 13 times more 16-to-24s said they would pay than did 35-to-44s and 55-64s
— Pre-middle agers (35-to-44s) are most likely to seek out a free alternative news site.
— And those stingy 45-to-54s are most likely to simply read their favourite site’s free headlines. But that’s not good enough for younger folk – 16-to-24s are four times less likely to do that.

Class: The middle ground loves free most of all…
— The upper middle and middle classes (“ABs”) are most likely to pay to continue reading their favourite news site, but that’s just six percent of them.
— That’s the same rate for the lower middle class (“C1s”).
— The skilled working class (“C2s”) are least likely to pay and most likely to find an alternative free news site.
— Interestingly, the number of working class people and those dependent on the state (“DEs”) who would pay is almost the same as ABs.

Regions: Geordies would survive on free headlines…
— Londoners are Welsh are most likely to pay for their favourite news site. Yorkshiremen, Midlanders and those in the South-East are least likely.
No-one in the north-west or south-west of England would pay.
— Scots, South-Westerners and Yorkshiremen are most likely to find free alternative news sites.

Methodology: Harris Interactive surveyed 1,188 adults (aged 16-64) online within the UK between August 26 and September 2, 2009. Figures for age, sex, education, region and internet usage were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents

10 Responses to “PCUK/Harris Poll: Only Five Percent Of Readers Would Pay For Online News”

  1. mark frieser

    This data proves nothing to me beyond the fact that people will say for the most part that they would rather not pay for something.

    I personally think that the only data that will prove anything in this regard, interesting as this survey is (and it is interesting), would be empirical data based on the actual launch of a paid only site by a major news outlet.

    My gut tells me that a much greater percentage of people will pay for content if it is actually withheld from then than this survey belies. For me personally, it all depends on the revenue model – a weekly price/monthly price… something that is minimal but helps cover publisher's costs, which like all content to one degree or another has been destroyed by the idea that on the Internet everything should be free. The ad model doesn't work and pay is the only avenue for long-term solvency.

    I think that if pay is implemented it will do far better than this survey relays.

  2. Jonathon Oake

    … so if 6% will pay, that would give about 600,000 paying UK online users ….

    @AlexGuest, from my experience if you ask people what they'd do if the price of their morning coffee went up 5p, everyone answers 'no' as a howl of protest, but then people do pay it. But that's a different example

    In reality of course it's far more likely that newspapers will all move uniformly to a pay system, meaning people might not have as much choice as they'd like to to switch

  3. Keith Geddes

    I already said no way would I pay. Glad to see most people agree with me. Isnt it obvious? I`m saying that a lot lately. MANY of these statements seem to be coming from the rear of some peoples heads.. Murdoch only wants more money.. he was short last year. Criticising the BBC just showed he forgot we already PAY for the Beeb. By law.. over all. I gather the rest of the world doesnt.. so WE pay for that too?? James showed how well hes been trained/brainwashed with that `lecture`.

  4. I like the part of the introduction to the PCUK-commissioned survey that say: "[The survey's results] will serve as a warning to publishers considering a paid content strategy."

    Thanks Rafat for explaining your agenda. Agenda you claim does not exist.

  5. Greg Golebiewski

    A recent study done by Belden Interactive ( shows a different picture.

    Given the situation that one's favorite online news would no longer be available [as a free site], 54% respondents said they would turned to local TV stations for the news; 39% would check other area newspapers' sites (given they are free), etc. (the respondents were allow to mark multiple choices) . Only 11% would go to "other [free] sites."

    Interestingly enough, 32% responded said they would use Cable TV (CNN) as their favorite source of news. Given that CNN is not free, the survey shows that PCUK/Harris Poll might indeed be biased (by limiting possible answers to the four options they listed in the survey), and thus largely underestimating the Web users' willingness to pay for news.

  6. Awesome survey.

    Experience suggests that the percentage of people who actually pay compared with those that say they'll pay is something like 10%. So if 5% say they'll pay, less than 1% actually will.

    The amount they'll pay compared with the average claimed value is also much lower.