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Young readers willing to pay: “Finding the right pricing and model is crucial for news organisations” to entice them

Nearly a quarter of young readers are willing to pay for news, according to a new survey by WAN-IFRA’s Elizabeth Benítez. 

The survey, which had 355 participants between 18 and 34 years old from Europe, the US and Mexico found that 23.4% are ready to pay for news and are willing to spend up to €6 per month. 

Source: WAN-IFRA

Four determinants influence willingness to subscribe

27.9% of the respondents said they are not ready to pay for an online news subscription. The rest of the sample were neutral. They are open to paying “perhaps at some point, for example, when their income level increases and pricing becomes less of an issue,” writes Benitez. 

The findings suggest that although “young readers are still the least willing to pay for digital news subscriptions, they do recognise the value-add in these paid offers,” she adds. 

“A lower subscription price has a positive effect to increase the young readers’ customer base and that they are excellent targets for premium offerings, such as access to more advanced visualisations, better search functions, or early access to content.”

Four determinants influence their willingness to pay: price, new engaging formats, value, and content.

Elizabeth Benítez, Event and Marketing Manager, WAN-IFRA

“Hence, finding the right pricing and model is crucial for news organisations,” she suggests. “As digital reader revenue is becoming a primary financial source, and younger users will become their main customers in the next years.”

Students’ offers, heavily discounted rates, or short cancellation periods are some strategies that publishers can use to motivate young readers to start paying for news.

Once they are onboard, content can be delivered in multiple formats i.e. video, podcasts, interactive materials to increase engagement and build loyalty. 

“While content is essential to engage young readers, the most critical factor is how it is presented,” Benítez explains. “The formats must be attractive to a mobile-native audience, such as Millennials and Gen Z’ers.” 

The Washington Post is already experimenting with V.R., interactive chatbots, and messaging options. Other publishers have also taken readers on 360-degree experience journeys to other planets, travel destinations, and presidential candidate rallies and debates.

Elizabeth Benítez, Event and Marketing Manager, WAN-IFRA

“Young readers want news offers that provide high-quality, meaningful, and trustworthy content, but above all, they expect it to be useful and interesting for them,” she says. 

Readers can pay even if information is available for free

Although young readers are inclined to pay less for news (€6) compared to the average monthly subscription price (€14.09) across six European countries and the United States, the study found a correlation between price and news value. 

“People often use price as an indicator of product quality. They may think, “the higher the price, the higher the quality,”” writes Benítez. Which means that readers may be willing to pay for content they perceive to be of high quality even if similar information is available for free.

This was amply demonstrated in 2020, when many publishers recorded remarkable growth in subscription despite lifting paywall from crucial content.    

“Achieve a strong value proposition”

The Atlantic added 100,000 subscribers in two months (over 300,000 in a year). Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor-in-chief of the magazine, attributes the success to their commitment to high quality journalism. 

I’ve been arguing for a long time that we will be saved as an institution by bearing down on quality, quality, quality. Just do the most deeply reported, beautifully written, carefully edited, fact-checked, copyedited, and beautifully designed stories — and the reader will come. They want to be supportive and they want access. And it turns out to be true. Thank God for it.

Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor-in-chief, The Atlantic

What’s even more encouraging is that people who subscribed during the Covid-19 have held on, easing many publishers’ fears around subscription fatigue.

“You hear a lot about subscription fatigue and cancel culture, but publishers are doing a good job retaining who they have,” Rob Ristagno, CEO, The Sterling Woods Group told Digiday in September. 

“News organisations can achieve a strong value proposition by clearly defining what their core competence is,” suggests Benítez. 

“While focusing on being profitable, publishers should not forget that their goal and core competence is to create great journalism. If users consider the offer valuable, they might be more likely to become subscribers,” she concludes.