Paying for News: Why People Subscribe and What It Says About the Future of Journalism

The Media Insight Project, a collaboration between the American Press Institute and The AP-NORC Center, investigates who subscribes to news, what motivates them, and what it means for the future of journalism.

The future of journalism will increasingly depend on consumers paying for the news directly, as content distributors like Facebook and Google take up the lion’s share of digital advertising dollars.

The Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, has undertaken what we believe is one of the largest efforts ever to understand who subscribes to news, what motivates them, and how creators of journalism can engage more deeply with consumers so more people will subscribe.

The study finds that slightly more than half of all U.S. adults subscribe to news in some form—and roughly half of those to a newspaper.

And contrary to the idea that young people will not pay for news because information on the internet is free, nearly 4 in 10 adults under age 35 are paying for news.

People are drawn to subscribe to news for three reasons above others—because a publication excels at coverage of key topics, because friends and family subscribe to the publication, and to a lesser degree, in response to discount promotions on subscription prices.

There is also substantial evidence that more consumers could begin to pay for news in the future—if publishers can understand them and serve them well. Half of those who do not pay for news actively seek out news and resemble subscribers in various ways. And nearly 2 in 10 of those who don’t subscribe to news now indicate they are inclined to begin to pay in the future.

Most subscribers see themselves as primarily print-oriented or digitally oriented—only 4 percent describe themselves as a combination of print and digital.

The survey was conducted February 16 through March 20, 2017, using AmeriSpeak®, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Interviews were conducted online and over the phone with 2,199 American adults.