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Oct. 28, 2016, 12:46 p.m.
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LINK: www.tandfonline.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   October 28, 2016

“I don’t think I would pay for it just because there’s so much availability of news on the internet for free that I feel like, if I have to pay for something somewhere, I’ll just look for it free somewhere else,” said one college student interviewed for an American Press Institute study released last year about American millennials’ attitudes towards paying for news.

It’s a reasonable attitude, and a big concern of those trying to build a sustainable business out of online news: Why would any reader be inclined to pay for news, when so much of it is available for free elsewhere, including from large public media sources such as BBC in the U.K. or NPR in the U.S.?

The assumption may not be true, according to an analysis by the Reuters Institute, published in Digital Journalism, which found that people who consume free news from public media aren’t any less likely to express a willingness to pay for news than those who don’t. (Though, overall, it’s still only a small percentage of people who are paying for online news.)

There is, in fact, evidence of a positive association between public service news access and paying for online news in every country other than Germany, and a positive association with willingness to pay everywhere. This may seem counterintuitive, but it should be kept in mind that others have found that public service media can have a positive impact upon the market as a whole.

(The caveat, here, is that these results merely show that free public media “by itself does not help create a reference price of zero for all other news available online.” And of course — especially in the United States where public media is less dominant than in Europe — there is plenty of free media that isn’t public.)

The analysis examines attitudes towards paying for online news in the U.K., U.S., Germany, France, Spain, and Japan, and was based on survey data collected for the Reuters Institute Digital News Report.

The analysis also finds that young people may actually be more willing to pay for news than expected, a finding the authors suggest — albeit “tentatively” — may be related to younger people’s willingness to pay for other entertainment services like Spotify or Netflix: “If these services and others like them become more popular, the ‘culture of free’ may begin to erode, particularly in the minds of those who have only ever experienced an internet where paying for digital media is normal,” they write:

In Germany, France, and Spain, there is an association between age and paying for online news, and among those who are not currently paying, younger respondents are more willing to pay in the future in Germany, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Only in Japan was there no significant association between age and either measure.

There is, unsurprisingly, an association between paying for a print newspaper and paying for online news (as well as a willingness to pay for online news in the future):

[T]hose who purchased a newspaper in the previous week are, in every country, more likely to also have paid for online news content in the last year. The association was strongest in France, Spain, and the United States, but weaker in Germany and the United Kingdom. Among those who did not pay in the last year, newspaper buyers were also significantly more likely to express a willingness to pay for online news in the future. Again, the strength of the association was quite weak in the United Kingdom, but considerably stronger in the other European countries, particularly Spain.

The six countries examined in the analysis vary widely on the online reach of their public media services, the strength of their print newspaper industries, and popularity of online news. The BBC, for instance, is “by far the most widely used online news source in the U.K.,” ARD and ZDF in Germany have relatively limited online reach (compared to their offline reach), and in Japan, print newspapers remain a strong source of news over online alternatives.

Image of money wall by the Hamster Factor used under a Creative Commons license.

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Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters
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