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Convincing young audiences of the value of news

July 5, 2023 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Understanding the habits and motivations of non-subscribers is just as crucial as studying subscribers’ behaviors when building a successful subscription-based news product. A Norwegian study, The Burden of Subscribing: How Young People Experience Digital News Subscriptions, delves into the motivations and experiences of young adults, ages 26-30, who read news online but do not pay for it.

The study takes a qualitative approach and sheds light on three key motivations for not subscribing: content exclusivity, time constraints, and unappealing payment models. Further, the study identifies additional factors contributing to people’s reluctance to subscribe to news. These factors relate to socio-demographic variables, the perceived value of news, notions of free news, payment models, and different content.

Newsgathering habits for non-subscribers

Participants access digital news but employ various strategies to gather information from non-subscription news sources. These strategies include searching for alternative coverage, borrowing login credentials, or relying on friends and family. Young adults don’t inherently oppose the idea of paying for online news. However, they express concerns about being charged for certain types of content, particularly information of significant importance and general interest. They believe such content should be free to serve the public interest.

Attracting young adults 

Surprisingly, the style, format, or journalists did not influence young adults’ decision to pay for news. Instead, participants primarily focused on the content itself. They questioned whether the same information is free elsewhere, indicating a perception of a zero-reference price. Young adults were less concerned about a news provider’s unique perspective or comprehensive coverage and more focused on the availability of similar information from alternative sources. This finding highlights the need for news organizations to offer unique content not found elsewhere.

Another dimension that emerged from the analysis is how young adults perceive subscriptions in relation to time. Some participants expressed a sense of commitment to reading more thoroughly if they were to pay for a news service. However, a common trend across the sample was the perception that subscriptions were time-consuming, creating a potential barrier to their adoption.

Multiple subscription options

Interestingly, many young adults viewed subscriptions as an addition to their existing news consumption habits rather than a complete replacement. While this presents an opportunity for news organizations to attract paying subscribers, it also poses a challenge. Some participants described the experience of keeping up with multiple subscriptions as a draining chore, leading to feelings of information overload. This finding underscores the importance of considering the user experience and ensuring that subscriptions offer tangible benefits without becoming burdensome.

When considering the price of digital subscriptions, participants viewed it within the context of their overall news consumption habits. Young adults feel the value they derive from various news sources and weigh the cost of subscriptions against alternative options.

Payment options

Participants also express the need for novel subscription models to cater to their diverse media appetites. Young adults preferred micropayments and the ability to access individual articles rather than committing to full subscriptions. This approach resonated with their desire to personalize their news consumption experience. Others called for a “Spotify model” where they could select and choose content from different providers through a joint subscription.

Value proposition

This study highlights the importance of understanding non-subscriber habits and preferences to design subscription models that align with their needs. News organizations can create compelling value propositions for young adults by offering flexible payment options and exploring joint subscriptions and personalized news portfolios. By considering the overall media repertoires of young adults, news organizations can build stronger relationships and attract a loyal subscriber base.

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