Paywalls Exist, But Free Digital News Remains

A new survey from Reuters Institute looked at how paywall strategies at over 200 daily and weekly newspapers, news magazines, TV news and digital news outlets in the U.S. and six European countries have changed since 2017.

Although overall there is a growing trend across Europe and the U.S. away from offering digital news for free, more than half of the news organizations — 53% of the 212 outlets included in the survey — continue to offer free access to digital news.

The study found that 69% of newspapers had some kind of pay model in 2019, compared to 64.5% in 2017.



For weeklies and magazines, 52% had pay models. 

All TV news stations offered access to their digital news for free.

Hard paywalls established by publishers like The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times - where no content is accessible for free - are rare, according to the study.

Paywalls are evenly divided (33% each) between freemium models, a mix of free and premium content, and metered paywalls, which allow access to a limited number of free articles each month, such as The New York Times’ strategy.

Compared to Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the U.K., the U.S.’s paywall landscape is dominated by metered paywalls.

The U.S. has also seen a sharper rise in paywalls than Europe: about 48% of U.S. outlets in the Reuters survey have a paywall, compared to 38% in 2017, a 10% increase.

Newspapers are primarily behind this growth. Some 76% have a paywall in 2019, up 16% from 2017.

The average price of a digital subscription is about $15.75 per month, according to the study.

The report was conducted by Felix M. Simon, a research assistant at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, and Lucas Graves, the Reuters Institute’s acting director of research.

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