How Many Would Pay For Content? Researchers Can’t Decide


After our PCUK/Harris poll in September, there’s been no shortage of research on people’s willingness to pay for online content.

But while one thing is consistent (only a minority say they want to pay), research agencies can’t agree on how big that minority percentage really is. Our analysis shows wide disparities between the leading studies on the year’s most pressing topic

Pick your survey and take your chances. Research methods, of course, can vary subtly, making all the difference, so here’s a link summary to all those methodologies, where available…

PCUK/Harris Poll (five percent of 1,888 UK adults said they would pay if their favourite online newspaper began charging).

Gfk (total 18 percent of UK adults in international survey of 16,800 said they didn’t want to would pay for “content”, ie. “news, entertainment and information sites such as Wikipedia”).

Continental (total 37 percent of 500 UK adults said they would pay micropayment, larger fee or monthly/annual sub for online newspaper/mag).

Olswang/YouGov (total 19 percent of 1,013 UK adults and 536 teens said they would make micropayments frequently, a subscription or otherwise pay for news articles online, on mobile or ereaders if there was no free alternative).

Oliver and Ohlbaum (“15 to 20 percent of respondents [survey of 2,600 UK consumers] said they would pay £2 a month for their favourite news website if it was the only one that charged”).

Forrester (total 19 percent of 4,711 US consumers said they would make micropayment, pay a sub or buy a bundled print/web/mobile package for online newspaper).

Boston Consulting Group (48 percent of 5,083 regular internet users in nine countries, including 506 in UK, said they would pay for online news).

KPMG (11 percent of 1,037 people aged 16 and over “currently spend anything on online media” – findings vary for different media types).

Let’s try a new number. Taking all eight studies in to account, the mean proportion of consumers who would pay for online content is 21.8 percent. Any advances… ?


peter hobday

The music industry spends all its time struggling to hold on to its obsolete business model while whining to the Govt for protection and aid.

Music is doing very well indeed, but music companies can no longer simply force-market singles to high street outlets – it no longer works. We are well rid of all that skull duggery! Musicians are going back to what they were originally – wandering minstrels who must sing for the supper. They will sell their CDs in the lobby and online. Music venues will soon become the area to invest in.

Rob D

People pay for things if they have to. That’s the whole point that most commentators seem to forget. The day that newspapers ALL start to charge, people will pay, don’t worry about that.

peter hobday

Carolyn – you are right on the nail. This kind of hypothetical question isn’t for a general survey and it isn’t really valid for any kind of discussion forum. In marketing, the technical term for this discussion is: ‘a total wast of time’. Sorry to lapse into jargon there!
Any direct marketer can tell you how to test the ‘paid content’ premise for any media that exists. You simply do what a scientist would do — this area of marketing is a science and there is no place for theory unless you have plenty of time and someone else’s money to spend.

Carolyn Morgan

In my days testing the circulation potential of new magazines at Emap, we quickly learnt that asking consumers hypothetical questions about price and willingness to pay wasn’t reliable. Instead we showed a cover image and a short description of the contents, and asked a specific question. That provided far more robust circulation estimates. Think the flaw in many of the above surveys is that they are asking a general question. There are plenty of real-life examples of content that people will pay for – I’ve documented a few in this article – and the news reported elsewhere on this site that the Guardian app got 9000 downloads in 48 hours tells its own story.


I agree with Evan above, and would like to take that comment further. I have recently conducted a poll of 200 people in the UK and the US as part of my Masters research.

My findings suggest that the “factor” that will decide whether or not someone actually pays for online content is the “perceived consequence” or what will happen as a direct result of consuming that content. If the perceived consequences are tangible and convincing enough, the consumer will pay.

All of the surveys above conveniently miss this, and refer to “content” or “news”. What matters though is whether the consumer feels that their personal or professional life will benefit in some way. And free alternatives are another important factor which come out as a threat to paid content.

As has been pointed ut already – general news content does not tick the right boxes. Specialised content that is unavailable elsewhere, or content that will help someone do their job better, or improve their lives in some way – now that is something that will work.


at, we have around 250,000 readers from within our region; if 20% pay £2 per month, thats £100,000 per month income over and above our advertising. That pays for a lot of new content, which win us more readers. Virtuous Circle.


In trying to find the most useful study, I’d exclude those that don’t clearly define it as NEWS content. I’d also exclude any study that confuses the issue by asking about the mechanic of payment, rather than just the basic will pay/won’t pay issue
So that leaves 2 studies, one with 5% and one with 48%. Glad I could clear that up!
But with the first study having a much larger base I’d go with 5%


Gfk text above is incorrect

—Gfk (total 18 percent of UK adults . . . said they didn’t want to pay for “content”

should read that 18% DID want to pay for content, which is consistent with the graphic

Evan Rudowski

It’s really important to define what we mean by “content.”

Many of these studies seem to specifically be asking whether people would pay for online news or newspaper content.

That kind of question is going to generate a very different response than asking whether people would pay for professional content or other content appealing to specialized interests.

As we know, many people will pay for content that is highly relevant, actionable, unique, frequently updated, high quality and from a trusted source. General news content does not tick many of those boxes and therefore people are less likely to be willing to pay for it.

There is a risk of reaching a generalized conclusion — such as that people won’t pay for online content — when really all they’ve been asked is whether they will pay for a certain type of content.

Thanks for your continued good reporting on this subject!

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