New survey of recent newspaper subscribers shows why people chose to pay

By Newsroom America Staff at 27 Feb 2018

(Newsroom America) -- The decision to subscribe to a local newspaper involves a mix of motives and trigger factors that can be described by nine key "paths to subscription," according to a report released by the Media Insight Project.

At a time when the news industry is turning to consumers to pay for news, a survey of 4,113 recent subscribers from 90 local newspapers across the country highlights which mindsets led them to subscribe.

Certain background factors make people generally willing to pay for a news source -- such as wanting access to local news (60 percent), noticing a lot of useful articles (40 percent), and wanting to support local journalism (31 percent). There are also triggers that push a person to finally subscribe -- the largest being a discount or promotion (45 percent). Once they have subscribed, reliability and accuracy of the coverage are very important to most new subscribers (78 percent).

To understand their many motivations, the report describes nine paths to subscription and offers suggestions for how publishers can target potential subscribers.

The paths include people who:

Hit paywalls online Closely follow a single topic Develop a strong relationship through social media Closely watch civic affairs Passionately defend a free press Were influenced to subscribe by a friend Like to read the news in print Enjoy clipping coupons Recently moved to the area

"The move toward subscriptions requires newspapers to identify potential subscribers with analytics that measure motives and engagement, not just page views," said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute.

"Newspapers need to understand the paths to subscription and guide each reader along his or her journey by delivering the types of value and engagement desired and tailoring their acquisition and retention strategies to each group."

Among the study's other key findings:

Quality and accuracy matter to nearly every subscriber group, especially after they subscribe. When asked for the most important reasons they read the newspaper now that they subscribe, people are most likely to cite a publication's accuracy (78 percent), its willingness to admit mistakes (69 percent), and its dealing fairly with all sides (68 percent) as most important.

The findings offer an opportunity and also a warning for publishers. They suggest that cutting back on newsrooms resources now (as many publishers do to maintain profit margins against declining revenue) imperils any long-term subscription strategy. Publishers may have to accept a smaller profit margin -- or none -- now, to invest in the content quality that potential subscribers demand.

Regardless of their underlying motivations, many subscribers are triggered by discounts at just the right time. Nearly half of all recent subscribers (45 percent) cited pricing promotions as the immediate trigger, more than double any other factor. Market size matters. There are some important differences between what drives people at small or medium-sized papers and metros (large and small). New subscribers to small papers are more likely than those at large metros to prefer print over digital (85 percent vs. 56 percent) and to subscribe after moving to town (23 percent vs. 13 percent). Subscribers to large metros are more likely than those at small papers to subscribe after noticing a lot of interesting articles (45 percent vs. 30 percent).

Print and digital subscribers are different. Digital subscribers in this study tend to be younger, male, and more educated than print readers. Digital readers are more often attracted by good coverage of a particular topic than are print readers (38 percent vs. 25 percent), and by noticing especially useful or interesting content (47 percent vs. 36 percent). Half of digital subscribers are triggered to subscribe by hitting a paywall meter, and they are more likely than print readers to be motivated by a desire to support local journalism (38 percent vs. 29 percent).

"This study captures local newspaper readers' attitudes at a key time - shortly after they made the decision to subscribe," said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. "The results show that there are many types of recent newspaper subscribers and each type is motivated to pay for news for different reasons."


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