Pony Up At The Paywall: Only A Fifth Of U.S. Readers Are Subscribing

Paywalls are increasingly getting in the way of people accessing content. But many are willing to spring, judging by Paying for News: Price-Conscious Consumers Look For Value amid Cost-of-Living Crisis, a study by Reuters Institute and University of Oxford.

In the U.S., 21% of consumers paid for online news in the 12 months prior to the research, versus a 20-country average of 17%. In contrast, 39% paid in Norway, 33% in Sweden, 22% in Australia and 21% in Finland. Only 11% subscribe in Germany and 9% in the UK. 

The U.S. market is dominated by such high-end titles as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. Bundling of offers is increasingly popular.  

But 47% in the U.S. cancelled or renegotiated subscriptions. And 28% simply cancelled. 

Yet 25% have taken additional subscriptions, and 38% have held the line where they are. Moreover, 4% have donated to publications, the highest percentage anywhere. 



What drives a reader to subscribe or donate to a news outlet? In the U.S., the motivations are:

  • Better quality or distinctive content—65%
  • Help fund good journalism—38%
  • Identification with brand/journalists—37%
  • Easy to use website or app—28%
  • Games, puzzles and non-news features—25%

Meanwhile, non-subscribers say they would be persuaded by the following:

  • If cheaper—18%
  • Price value (e.g., multi-publisher bundles, family options)—19%
  • More relevant/distinctive content—20%
  • Fewer ads—11%
  • None of these—44%

From this, we might infer that almost half will not pay for any reason.   

To some extent, this analysis is based on dated research. 

The 2023 Reuters Institute Digital News Report consisted of surveys done by YouGov in January/February 2023. This was supplemented by qualitative research conducted by YouGov.

With that understood, what else does it tell us? 

Overall, 60% of ongoing subscribers or donors are male. In addition, 37% are age 55+, versus 11% who are Gen Z. 

They have higher education (49%), medium or high income (79%) and 70% are at least very interested in news. Also, 51% are highly interested in politics. 

But those things are no guarantee people will pay for online news content: In the U.S., only 33% of those who are very/extremely interested in news are paying. But that’s still higher than Germany (14%) and the UK (13%).  

There is another model — that of The Guardian, which provides news free to all readers, while encouraging donations and offering a digital subscription for its premium app features. 

At the least, it’s not as annoying. 





2 comments about "Pony Up At The Paywall: Only A Fifth Of U.S. Readers Are Subscribing".
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  1. Ginger Cookie from Consultant, October 2, 2023 at 9:04 a.m.

    Not surprising age 55+ are triple that of Gen Z however its still quite low at just 37%....would be interesting to see the compositoin in magazine/publisher site brands....its a very telling sign of how the "quality' of U.S. journalism has slid downards especially 2005 and before...

    And with 51% in politics...certainly correlates highly to the NYT, WSJ and the very impressive Atlantic platform...all heave on subs...albeit many heavily discounted....yet the revenues of each in the aggregrate finally surpassing print revenues...and of course the efficiences, margins....Bloomberg in this category too...they are the creme de le creme....with higher educated reader profiles and influence in that sphere of demos... 


  2. T Bo from Wordpress, October 2, 2023 at 9:14 a.m.

    It IS surprising to me that 60% are male--though I suppose that could reflect payments on bhealf of a household.  As female academic performances continue to exceed male's, this % should shift.

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