News paywalls: Consumer views on paying for content

 
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Of the top 50 digital news outlets, 39 are receiving more traffic from mobile devices than desktop computers, according to the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2015 report. Sixty-three percent of Facebook users as well as 63 percent of Twitter users say they use these services for news about “events and issues outside the realm of friends and family.” In response to these trends and falling revenue from print products, legacy media outlets have experimented with various ways to generate revenue from their online presence, including The New York Times’ now well-known “metered paywall.” But, as advertising revenue continues to fall and reduces digital income, news organizations have struggled to come up with a sustainable strategy to convince consumers to pay directly for content. In particular, organizations are frequently concerned that these strategies threaten to undercut the outlet’s audience instead of generating significant revenue, especially since consumers appear reluctant to pay for news online.

A 2015 study published in Electronic News, “Examining the Third-Person Perception on News Consumers’ Intention to Pay,” investigated consumers’ willingness to pay for online news. The authors used a survey to determine whether consumers see others as more willing to pay for news online than they themselves would be. The researchers — Hsiang Iris Chyi, Angela Lee, and Avery Holton, based at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of Utah — asked 767 Internet users about their own willingness and their perception of others’ willingness to pay for news in three news platforms: in print, on the Web, and in an app.

The study’s findings include:

  • 30.8 percent of those surveyed thought others would be more likely to pay for news in print than they reported they themselves would be.
  • 44 percent of those surveyed thought others would be more likely to pay for news on the Web than they reported they themselves would be.
  • 47.5 percent of those surveyed thought others would be more likely to pay for news in an app than they reported they themselves would be.
  • Further, the gap between self-perception and perception of others’ likeliness widened from print to Web and again from Web to app.

The researchers concluded that paying for news might be regarded as socially undesirable, since the so-called “third-person effect” happens most often due to self-enhancement —people’s desire to feel better about themselves because they perform or avoid a certain activity. If so, they reasoned, paying for news online could be seen as particularly undesirable, since the gap grew for those media. This social undesirability could explain, at least in part, why news organizations have struggled to charge for digital content.

Related research: A 2014 study in Journalism Practice, “An Empirical Study of Factors that Influence the Willingness to Pay for Online News,” provides an overview of what factors make consumers more willing to pay for digital media. A 2013 study in Digital Journalism, “Newspaper Paywalls—the Hype and the Reality,” looks at the impact of paywalls on news organizations’ revenue. A 2012 study in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, “Paying for What Was Free: Lessons from the New York Times Paywall,” examines readers’ attitudes toward The New York Times before and after it implemented its paywall.

 

Keywords: journalism, paywalls, mobile, online news

Last updated: November 5, 2015

 

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Citation: Chyi, Hsiang Iris; Lee, Angela; Holton, Avery. “Examining the Third-Person Perception on News Consumers’ Intention to Pay,” Electronic News, September 2015. doi: 10.1177/1931243115604883.