WAN-IFRA - World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

06/17/2024 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/17/2024 01:19

Digital News Report 2024: Business challenges mount as subscription growth slows

Digital News Report 2024: Business challenges mount as subscription growth slows

2024-06-17. The proportion of people paying for online news shows signs of stalling, with 17% of people in a selection of richer countries paying for online news, and many paying heavily discounted rates. Meanwhile, more than half say they would pay nothing for online news.

by Teemu Henriksson[email protected]| June 17, 2024

In a context where many news publishers are focusing on digital reader revenue as a critical area for future growth, the new Digital News Report makes for particularly sobering reading.

17 percent of respondents in 20 richer countries said they had paid for online news in the past year, according to the latest edition of the annual report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

  • The full Digital News Report 2024, including in-depth country profiles, is available here.

After a period of growth in 2014-2019, followed by a boost during the pandemic, the report provides further evidence of the struggles many news publishers are experiencing as they readjust their business models in an attempt to build a strong foundation of digital reader revenues.

Although the topline figure of 17 percent paying for news has not changed for the past few years, there is a great deal of variation between countries. According to the study, a significant proportion of respondents in Norway (40%) and Sweden (31%) pay for online news, but the figures are much lower in countries such as Germany (13%), France (11%), Japan (9%), and the UK (8%).

Given the range of challenges facing the news media industry, the slow growth in digital reader revenues is particularly worrying, the report notes: "A difficult advertising market, combined with rising costs and the decline in traffic from social media, has put more pressure on the bottom line, especially for publishers that have relied on platform distribution."

"Paid models have been a rare bright spot in some of the richer countries in our survey, where publishers still have strong direct connections with readers, but have been difficult to make work elsewhere."

An additional issue is that most digital subscriptions tend to go to the same few big national brands, showing that the "winner takes most" dynamic highlighted in previous editions of the report persists in many markets.

However, there are a few countries where people pay on average for more than one online news publication, including the US, Switzerland, Poland, and France.

Evidence of heavy, widespread discounting

The latest edition of the Digital News Report also looked at the price that news consumers pay for their main news subscriptions, and compared this with the price that publishers charge for their news content.

The results show that in many markets, particularly the US and UK, large numbers of people pay very little for news, presumably due to heavily discounted trial periods.

In the US, well over half of those paying for online news pay less than the median cost of a main news subscription ($16 per month), with many news consumers paying just a few dollars.

There are significant differences between markets, and for example in Norway, Denmark and France most people pay the median price or close to it, and far fewer people pay significantly lower prices.

Meanwhile, more than three-quarters in Poland and almost half in the US pay less than the full price.

In terms of the revenue publishers receive from their readers, it is also important to note that while fewer people pay a discounted price in Norway, the median price is also much higher than in many other markets.

More than half unwilling to pay for online news

The study also looked at the people who do not currently pay for online news and how they might be persuaded to start paying. A striking proportion of non-payers, on average 55%, said they would not be prepared to pay anything for online news.

The share of people who are unwilling to pay is consistently high across markets: around two-thirds in the UK (69%), Germany (68%), and France (67%), and just under half in Finland (43%), Norway (45%), and Ireland (46%).

Amid these challenges, the report's reflections on the future of reader revenue are remarkably bleak:

"Not every publisher can expect to make reader revenue work, in large part because much of the public basically does not believe news is worth paying for, and continues to have access to plenty of free options from both commercial, non-profit, and, in some countries, public service providers.

"But for others, building digital subscriptions based on distinctive content is the main hope for a sustainable future. Discounting is an important part of persuading new customers to sample the product but publishers will hope that over time, once the habit is created, they can increase prices.

"It is likely to be a long and difficult road with few winners and many casualties along the way."

Other findings from the report

A series of "platform resets" are reshaping online news discovery. Facebook's role as a traffic driver is declining in many countries as the use of other channels such as messaging apps and video networks increases. TikTok has overtaken X as a news source for the first time and has particularly high usage in parts of the Global South. The role of video as a source of news is growing, especially among younger people, who are also increasingly getting their news from a new generation of news creators on social platforms.

Audiences are comfortable with the use of AI for efficiency, less so for journalism. When asked about the use of artificial intelligence in news coverage, audiences are more comfortable with the use of AI for behind-the-scenes tasks such as translation and transcription. But in the news context, there is "widespread suspicion about how it might be used," especially for "hard" news stories such as politics or crime, although respondents were slightly more comfortable with AI being used to report on topics such as sports or entertainment.

Concerns about what is real and what is fake are growing. In a year with a record number of elections around the world, news audiences are concerned about how to identify trustworthy content online. Across platforms, people felt it was hardest to identify trustworthy content on TikTok and X, and easiest on Google Search, YouTube and WhatsApp.

Explore and download the full report here.

Teemu Henriksson

Research Editor

[email protected]