Pay For News Online? Pew Report Says Few Favor Idea

New data from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism suggests that few consumers of news on the Web would consider paying for the content.

The report comes as media giants such as The New York Times look for new revenue via pay models. So far, The Wall Street Journal has been the only major publisher to make a pay model stick. It charges $79 per year for full access to its site.

But the statistics suggest that it won't be an easy battle for an industry seeking profit from its online audience.

Only 35 percent of news consumers report having a favorite site. An even slimmer 19 percent of those "faithful" users say they would pay for news online. Put another way, the report concludes that 82 percent of "faithful" users would seek the news elsewhere if charged. All told, only 7 percent of online news consumers with a favorite Web site indicate willingness to pay.

Data from the research firm Outsell may suggest one reason consumers are so willing to do without their choice news source when asked to pay. Outsell says 44 percent of visitors to Google News never click to read the full article, only scanning headlines. Many people are apparently satisfied with skimming the news without ever diving into it.

Whether it was the 24 hour news cycle that turned American news consumers into sound-bite seekers or the reverse (the chicken or the egg?), the news industry faces a distinct challenge in the digital age. If people are only interested in a broad representation of the news, then they are less likely to discriminate one source from another — except when one would charge for what is free from another.

A commenter at The Globe and Mail shares their opinion:

The problem is that you can get news 24/7 from online media almost anywhere in the world. If site X tries to charge me I can find it at site Y. This might not apply to some investigative stories, local news and editorials, etc., but the majority of news can be found somewhere for free. I read articles from Canada, the US and Europe online daily. It's hard, if not impossible, to compete with free content.

The Pew report on online economics and consumer attitudes is part of a larger study, "The State of the News Media 2010," which can be read in full at stateofthemedia.org.

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