Left Bay’s Musings on the Media

Searching for answers in sales and marketing

Archive for October, 2009

Who Will Pay For News?

President Obama recently weighed in on the crisis in journalism.

“Journalistic integrity, you know, fact-based reporting, serious investigative reporting, how to retain those ethics in all these different new media and how to make sure that it’s paid for, is really a challenge,” Mr. Obama told a reporter from the Toledo Blade. “But it’s something that I think is absolutely critical to the health of our democracy.”

About the same time I was reading this article, I came across another — this one quoting the results of a Harris Interactive Survey on who would pay for news.

The research, commissioned by paidContent:UK shows that most readers would, in their words, “run a mile” and NOT pay. Nearly 75% would switch to free sites, 8% would read only the headlines and move on, and 12% weren’t sure. That left a measly 5% who would actually pay for content.

As reporter Robert Andrews asks, “The big question for publishers: Is five percent of your readership enough to offset the decline in advertising revenue that would come with putting your content behind a pay wall?”

Actually, that 5% would choose to pay is in line with the anecdotal evidence we’ve heard at Kachingle, which is that between 5% to 10% of readers would pay for content. Journalism Online is using the higher number. NYTimes said they received 12% for their failed effort called “Times Select.” Others in the business I talk with seem to think you can get at least 5% to pay. So in and of itself, the numbers are not surprising, and reinforce what we’ve been hearing.

What’s surprising, and frankly somewhat baffling, are the results broken out by age. Harris reports that 13% of 16-24 year olds and 6% of 25-34 year olds said they would pay; as opposed to only 1% of 45-54 year olds. Harris Interactive is a big name in polling, but these results go against everything we’ve seen, and seem totally out of whack. If anyone is going to be willing to pay, it’s the baby-boomers, not the “kids.”

But the big picture remains true: “As long as free alternatives exist, consumers will turn to them for their daily information.”

At Kachingle, we get asked a lot about statistics like these. There’s some comfort in knowing that some percentage of users will pay for content. What’s disconcerting is that so few actually will.

We’re not about getting users to pay for content; we’re about getting them to build online personas. They’ll Kachingle in order to associate themselves with sites and build their personal brand. That’s why in our demos, we show side-by-sides of a Yugo and a Porsche. What does contributing say about YOU? Our question hasn’t been asked yet. But it will, soon…