Commentary

Study: How 'COVID Effect' Drives Reader Willingness To Pay For News

Many publishers in the past few years have tightened their digital paywalls as they seek to diversify their revenue amid a broader decline in advertising. Those efforts to boost reader revenue are more likely to succeed as people show a greater willingness to pay for news they trust.

That's especially true as the COVID-19 pandemic drives a jump in media consumption among homebound audiences, and drives a hunger for reliable news amid the misinformation, conspiracy theories and fake news that circulates on social media.

Some 30% of Americans said they're willing to pay for well-researched and reliable news after the pandemic, according to a survey by consulting firm Altman Solon published today. That willingness is more pronounced among young adults, with 53% of people ages 18 to 24 saying they're interesting in paying for news, compared with only 15% of people ages 55 or older.
"This 'COVID effect' on news appears to be durable, as 82% of Americans expect to continue to pay for news after pandemic restrictions are lifted," according to Altman Solon.
The finding bolsters other research, including several studies by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism that have indicated more publishers are adding paywalls — and a growing portion of readers are willing to pay for news.
Unfortunately, trust in the news media has declined amid the political polarization that has inspired journalists to see themselves as part of an ideological movement, rather than seekers of facts. Fifty-four percent of Americans said they believe reporters intentionally misrepresent facts, while 28% believe reporters make the facts up entirely, according to a study by Gallup and the Knight Foundation.

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Trust In Print Advertising Declines, But Social Media Ads Are The Worst
Consumer trust in advertising has fallen since the pandemic began, but print ads have held up pretty well -- which is something that salespeople at publishers should point out to marketers and media buyers.
When asked how much they trust ads associated with news content, Americans expressed a negative opinion about every media channel, according to Altman Solon. Ads on social media were viewed least trustworthy with a net perception level of -39%, worse than ads on out-of-home and billboards at -23%, podcasts at -22%, online news at -14% and radio at -13%.
By comparison, print and TV ads were the only sources with a net trust rating better than -10%, the study found. A positive trust rating would be better for publishers. After all, no one wants to brag they were the smartest kid in summer school. However, creating a brand-safe environment that cultivates consumer trust should be a goal for every publisher.
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