People in the U.S., France, Japan, and Brazil are all consuming more of their news digitally than ever before. But whether they will pay for a national news story — or post that article on Facebook once they find it — varies widely, and national culture plays a role in those differences.
A new survey from Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism compares news consumption patterns across nine countries and shows strong national differences in how willing people are to buy a newspaper, comment on a news story, or pay for online news. It’s also a reminder that the U.S. media landscape isn’t a universal example, study author Nic Newman told me.
“Partly because the U.S. is so big, it’s such a pioneer, it’s done so much innovation, everyone thinks everything that happens in the U.S. happens in the same way everywhere,” Newman said. “One of the surprising things is, I don’t think that’s happening.”
The survey tracks changes in news consumption over time and across different countries — two categories that have seen independent research. (It follows a more limited survey last year and looked at news consumers in the U.S., U.K., Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, urban Brazil, and Japan.) Some findings are nearly universal: Smartphones and tablets are spreading at slightly different rates, but they’re spreading everywhere. In the U.S., 11 percent of people said they accessed news on a tablet in the 2012 survey; this year, it was 16 percent. In the U.K., that jump was from 8 to 16 percent, and in Germany it was from 5 to 10 percent.
But a significant divide exists in the willingness of consumers to comment on news stories and share them on social networks. Thirty-eight percent of respondents in urban Brazil had recently commented on a news story on a social network, as opposed to just seven percent in Japan, eight percent in Germany, and 10 percent in the U.K. The U.S. came in at 21 percent.
Those differences are important for global news organizations to grasp, Newman cautioned. “If you’re The Huffington Post, and you’re trying to do an international strategy that’s going to work across Europe, they’re in Japan, in the U.S. — then not all countries are going to engage to such a degree with the social elements and the content. You have to take into account the culture and things that people want from their media.”
The study attributes those differences largely to “culture,” which Newman explained refers both to a country’s geography, politics, and media regulations as well as to habits of news consumption and participation.
“You also get into stereotypes, but you know there’s a bit of truth in that,” Newman said. “So it’s no surprise that the Spanish culture, the Latin culture, the Brazilian culture, is very social. It’s very social online, it’s very social offline. People like to talk about news, they like to share things, and that’s coming out online as well.”
The study found that traditional news habits remained strong in most of the countries. Half of the people surveyed said they bought a print newspaper that week, while only 5 percent said they had paid for news delivered digitally. In Germany and France, one-third of people were so uninterested in digital media that they had only recently consumed news on TV, radio, or in print — despite the fact that the survey was conducted online.
Some of the study’s findings — like the fact that digital news is moving away from articles and pictures to include video clips and live blogs — won’t come as a surprise. But it did include a few promising signs for publishers looking to the future. Most countries saw a jump in those who said they recently paid for digital news, and in all nine countries surveyed, 25- to 34-year-olds were the most willing to pay for it.
The U.K. is the real outlier when it comes to paying for digital news, thanks to the strength of the BBC and major outlets like the Guardian and the Daily Mail operating without paywalls. The U.K. comes in dead last in its citizens’ willingness to pay up: Only 5 percent said they would likely pay for digital news in the future, compared to 9 percent in the U.S. and 58 percent in urban Brazil.
In Britain especially, media companies are only beginning the process of convincing people to pay for something easily accessed for free. “The water industry has educated people to pay for bottles of water — for the branding, the packaging, for the extra premium that you get out of it,” Newman said. “With some publishers still seeing success with their free content model, like the Guardian, there will continue to be lots of free news available. And that’s the journey on which these news organizations are embarked.”
Photo by Katy Stoddard used under a Creative Commons license.