June 23, 2010

Is it likely that readers will be willing to pay for news online?

Q. Major news organizations keep complaining that they can no longer afford to pay reporters to cover and report the news since more and more readers are getting their news for free online. Is it likely that internet users would be willing to pay for news?

At the moment our surveys find only a tiny proportion of internet users — 7% — express any willingness to pay for news. That’s not because internet users are uninterested in news: fully 71% of all those online say they get news from the internet. Within that group, however, just 35% say they have a favorite news website and, among those with a favorite site, only 5% say they pay for news content now. Moreover, just 19% say they would be willing to pay if that favorite site started charging for access to its content.

In other words, when we asked people who have a favorite website if they would pay for access to that site if it erected a pay wall, 82% said they would not return to the site and would go elsewhere for their news. And those are the people who like that website enough to call it a favorite. This reluctance poses huge challenges to news sites that want to erect a pay wall and add subscription fees for access to their online offerings.

Lee Rainie, Director, Internet & American Life Project