Consumers Prefer Ads to Paying for Online News

Traditional print news media like magazines and newspapers have been struggling to adapt to the online world: as print advertising sales plummet and a growing number of newspapers scale back or close down entirely, there’s been growing momentum in the industry—spearheaded by News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch—to take online news content behind so-called “paywalls,” where only paid subscribers will be able to access content. Now, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism “State of the Media” report finds that while Americans like online news, few are willing to pay for it.

The survey polled some 2,259 American adults at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010; according to the report, some 71 percent of Internet users—translating to 53 percent of all American adults—get news online. However, of those users, only 35 percent report having a “favorite” online news site, and of that 35 percent—who would seem to be the most likely customers for a paid-subscription model—only 19 percent said they would be willing to pay to visit their favorite online news site.

“Because so few online news consumers even have a favorite site,” the report noted, “this translates to only seven percent of all people who get news online having a favorite online news source that they say they would pay for.”

The report also found that 79 percent of online news consumers had never or only rarely clicked an online ad. According to the report, consumers don’t particularly mind the ads, but simply tune them out.

Currently the only major newspaper behind a paywall is New Corp’s Wall Street Journal, which has found some success putting its specialized business content behind a paywall and attracting subscribers. The New York Times has announced it plans to convert to a paywall model in 2011.

The report found that so-called “traditional media” still provides the bulk of original reporting. Many so-called “new media” outlets such as blogs mere link to original work from mainstream sources; the New York Times was the most linked-to traditional media outlet with 28.7 percent of all blog links; CNN followed with 18.9 percent and the BBC with 17.6 percent.

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: