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News organizations must go beyond subscriptions to win younger audiences

While younger consumers show an interest in news, they are hesitant to commit to news subscriptions especially as the cost of living soars. Noam Bardin of Post News suggests micropayments as a viable solution to meet the needs of this demographic, offering a more flexible and affordable way to access news content…

Fewer people are reading the news. Only 38% of people now follow the news regularly, down from 51% in 2016, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. Given the importance of having an informed citizenry to the future of democracy, civility, and independent thinking, you’d think media companies everywhere would be working to make it easier to get more news in front of people.

You’d be wrong.

Instead, more than two-thirds (69%) of leading news outlets across the US and the EU now operate some kind of paywall, limiting news readership. In the US alone, this figure has jumped from 60% to 76% since 2017. 

Of course, journalism costs money, and news organizations must be compensated for their efforts. But people don’t want to pay for news—at least not in the form of an ongoing subscription. Instead, throughout modern history, people have paid for news with their attention and “eyeballs,” as part of an ad-supported business model.

More recently, the market rewarded the recurring revenue models of SaaS companies, leading everyone to follow suit. Companies have doubled down on subscriptions for everything from music (Spotify) and films (Netflix) to rental cars (Zipcar) and groceries (HelloFresh). Even alternative milk brand Oatly has a subscription service.

Unfortunately, the subscription model doesn’t work for news. Only 20% of Americans subscribe to a news source; just 10% subscribe to more than one. Publishers have an abysmal track record of turning website traffic into subscriptions, with conversion rates hovering at 2%, if they’re lucky.

Moreover, those who do subscribe to news outlets don’t represent the diversity of today’s population. News subscribers are disproportionately male, white, and old. They also tend to be more highly educated and left-leaning politically, reinforcing the concept of a monolithic liberal elite, which alienates an untold number of potential news consumers.

Media promiscuity

Younger consumers are interested in news, but they don’t want news subscriptions. Forty percent of 18- to 29-year-olds get their news from social media, visiting publishers through side doors such as X and TikTok, Google search results, and mobile aggregators like Apple News+. Younger consumers are less likely to have any direct relationships with publishers, and if they do, those relationships are incredibly tenuous.

When younger people finally do click through to a publisher’s site, their reading experience is either interrupted by ads or thwarted by a paywall, and they bounce. As the cost of living increases, this dynamic is likely to worsen. Already, at least one-third of existing news subscribers canceled or renegotiated the price of their subscriptions last year. For younger consumers, who are generally more price sensitive with less disposable income, the prospect of subscriptions as a winning long-term model seems increasingly out of touch. (Even the bright spot of The New York Times is misleading—a lot of subscribers are mostly there for the games.)

But publishers need not despair. These audiences aren’t gone forever. Eighteen to 24-year-olds are the most likely to say they would pay for news content if it were less expensive or more relevant to them. They don’t want the long-term commitment of a subscription and would rather pick and choose the articles that interest them, curating their own media diet. This relative media promiscuity is a good thing—for media businesses vying for new audiences as well as for a society fighting to combat the echo chambers and tribalism of social media. 

One way to enable news variety is through micropayments, which allow readers to pay just a few cents to access a single article. At Post News, for example, we’ve seen nearly 40% of our daily active users purchase content this way, delivering publishers the equivalent of a $30 CPM without ads. By letting users unlock articles directly within their feed with a single click, the experience is frictionless, and the results are telling: Users access content from a wider range of sources and are willing to pay for it.

Giving people news directly within their feed through micropayments has an additional and unexpected impact that bucks conventional wisdom. For years, younger audiences have balked at paying for news they could get for free elsewhere. At Post, however, we see thousands of people regularly paying for content that’s available for free on our 100-plus publishing partners’ sites, just for the convenience of not having to leave our platform or read articles in an ad-heavy environment.

Micropayments go mainstream

For younger audiences, the concept of micropayments is already mainstream. It’s how they buy extra moves in Candy Crush Saga and avatar upgrades on Roblox. App developers, who reap nearly half their revenue from in-app purchases, understand this; it’s time that news publishers—which arguably have democracy on the line—leverage this insight, too.

Perhaps the most heartening trend we’ve seen on Post isn’t paying for content at all—it’s tipping. 23,000 users on Post have tipped not just individual creators, but also major news organizations like the AP, The Independent, and Reuters for their journalistic efforts. While tips range in amount, our users have already given over $40,000 to publishers and creators directly within the Post platform, revealing that if there’s a way, there’s a will.

Younger audiences want to access news. For publishers to be successful, they need to make access easier. They need to give people content the way they want, in the format they want. They need to remove barriers to access, not add to them. They must focus on winning—and keeping—audiences with their content each day, without relying on outdated models, long-standing commitments, and older audiences to protect their future. Otherwise, there won’t be a future to protect.

Noam Bardin
Founder & CEO, Post News

Post News is a social news platform dedicated to providing real people with real news while fostering civil conversations. By ingesting publishers’ content directly into the platform and offering micropayments for premium content, Post empowers users to access news without ads or subscriptions, all while incentivizing publishers and creators to produce high-quality content. With robust moderation tools and a commitment to civil discourse, Post is reshaping the way we consume and engage with news and content on social media. Join the conversation at