Is the paywall debate swinging in News Int's direction?

Newspaper users could be coming round to the idea of paying for content online, writes Euan Mackay, associate director at Kantar Media.

Times users' willingness to pay for online content has doubled since 2009
Times users' willingness to pay for online content has doubled since 2009

In 2010, Rupert Murdoch announced the end of free online news and the Times paywall was erected.

Much debate ensued about the best approach to adopt in monetising digital content. Is free necessarily the best way and paywall the brute?

What do newspaper users think - are they willing to pay?

Kantar Media’s FuturePROOF study looks at the online audiences of three quality newspapers, finding that some users could be coming round to the idea of paying for content.

To re-cap on the current situation across these websites:

  • It was reported last month that The Daily Telegraph will launch its pay model in September. Rumoured to be a metered paywall similar to the FT, The Telegraph has not announced its intentions. So is a metered solution the best option for The Telegraph?
  • The Times’ Rupert Murdoch claimed the free era was over and the Times went with an absolute paywall in July 2010.
  • The Guardian’s strategy was clear from the outset: online news content should remain free. They believe this will bring in big audiences and increase the value of online ad revenues.

The Telegraph’s audience is least into cash for content

The Telegraph may need to tread carefully as it enters the paid-for digital market. Users are more likely than the population to consider registering with a site to access additional content (35% vs. 26%).

Only 7% would consider paying for newspaper content online. Willingness to pay has moved marginally from 5% in 2009.

Evidence of a growing appetite for paid content among the Times audience

Thirteen percent of the Times site users interviewed by Kantar Media in 2010 would consider paying for online newspaper content, a higher proportion than for The Telegraph (7%). Willingness to pay has doubled since 2009 (from 6%).

Guardian readers are no less willing to pay

Guardian users are on a par with the Times. Forty seven percent said they would be willing to register for additional content (compared with 43% of Times and 35% of Telegraph users).  

They were just as likely to consider paying for online newspaper content as Times readers - 13% a piece (almost twice as likely as Telegraph users).

They also show a similar increase in willingness to pay (7% - 2009).

I am willing to register with a website if it means I get additional content


Source: Kantar Media (futurePROOF)

I would consider paying for newspaper content online

  Source: Kantar Media (futurePROOF)

 Could portable devices pave the way?

 Times and Guardian users show similar levels of willingness to pay to receive newspaper content on their mobile (8% and 10% respectively) and both show a two-fold increase since 2009.

Telegraph users are however less inclined (5% would consider paying).

I would consider paying to receive newspaper content on my mobile device


Source: Kantar Media (futurePROOF)

Eleven percent of the GB population told us they liked the idea of reading a newspaper on an electronic device (7% in 2009).

Interest doubles amongst Times and Guardian users (21% and 22% respectively) and is also higher than average among Telegraph users (15%).

I like the idea of reading a newspaper on an electronic device or e-reader 

Source: Kantar Media (futurePROOF)

Under 45s remain reluctant to pay for online content… but portable devices provide some motivation

Twice as many under 45s are willing to pay for general website content (12%) compared with those aged 45 plus (6%).

I would consider paying for certain websites that I really want to visit


Source: Kantar Media (futurePROOF)

When it comes to paying for newspaper content, however, the lack of willingness to pay cuts across all age groups (5% of under 45s are willing compared with 4% of those aged 45 plus).

I would consider paying for newspaper content online


Source: Kantar Media (futurePROOF)

Portable devices could be the answer. Interest in reading news on a portable electronic device increased among under 25s from 12% in 2009 to 19% in 2010. 

Among those aged 25-44 there was a doubling of interest from 8% to 16%.

I like the idea of reading a newspaper on an electronic device or e-reader


Source: Kantar Media (futurePROOF)

I would consider paying to receive newspaper content on my mobile device


Source: Kantar Media (futurePROOF)

Considerations for publishers

In November 2010, editor James Harding of the Times reported that the paywall was working well, with increases in total audience and additional revenue to print.

However, traffic to the website has fallen significantly, so questions still remain about the long term viability of this approach despite the reportedly more engaged audience paying to access the walled garden.

The concept of a metered paywall appears to have growing appeal for publishers.  

Financial Times editor Lionel Barber, interviewed on News Night (February 22nd), stated that 50% of FT readers take both online and print content.

The fact that other newspapers are following suit (New York Times and potentially the Telegraph) suggests this is seen as a preferable approach.

Radio 4’s Steve Hewlett argues that a free online model is the only way to generate large enough audiences to bring in high revenues.

Free content is of course good but not necessarily right across the board. As Andrew Marr poetically puts it; "If something is always available like tap water, you tend to value it less".

Publishers need to convince under 25 year olds to pay for digital content for the sake of the long term future of quality journalism.

The data available to date suggests that paid-for content via portable devices could offer a more palatable means of monetising digital audiences, alongside a part-paid, part-free web model.

While there is no simple answer for cultivating a paid content culture, News International’s brutal paywall was a brave move that the publishing world badly needed to happen.

It seems that other publishers are now finally recognising the need to experiment with a variety of means of monetising the audience (from paid apps and first-click-free to metered access) in order to identify their own optimal mix of strategies.

Euan Mackay, associate director at Kantar Media


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