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Research / Insights on current and emerging industry topics

Digital benefits entice new news subscribers

July 25, 2023 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Advertising messaging is an important trigger in increasing people’s willingness to pay for online subscriptions. New academic research, Effects of Advertising Messages on Willingness to Pay for Online News, from Bartosz Wilczek, Ina Schulte-Uentrop, and Neil Thurman, evaluates effective advertising strategies for online subscriptions. The study focuses on four types of advertising appeals: digital-specific, social, normative, and price transparency. The findings indicate that digital-specific features appeal. Aspects like personalization, online-first delivery, and online-only offers significantly impact participants’ willingness to pay. This suggests that emphasizing the unique digital advantages of online news can increase sign ups and subscription interest.

Messaging impact

This research sets out to address two crucial questions. First, it seeks to uncover the most potent individual advertising message (digital-specific, social, normative, or price transparency appeal) to drive people’s willingness to pay for online news.

The study also looks to understand which combination of advertising messages among digital-specific, social, normative, and price transparency messaging ultimately boosts people’s willingness to pay for online news.

Messaging appeal

The different respondent testing shows that digital messaging is the most potent. Social messaging that emphasizes community membership and offline and online events also positively influences participants’ willingness to pay. This finding suggests that fostering a sense of belonging and engagement within a community can enhance subscription intentions.

Normative messaging, which focuses on the importance of supporting independent, inclusive, and watchdog journalism, has a moderate positive impact on willingness to pay.

Interestingly, the price transparency appeals, which provide information on the news industry’s critical financial situation, do not significantly impact willingness to pay. This suggests that while consumers may value transparency, it may not be a primary motivating factor for subscribing to online news.

Combining messages

The research reveals that combining advertising messages can increase people’s willingness to pay for online news. Combining the normative appeal with the price transparency appeal is the most convincing. In comparison, other combinations of advertising messages do not yield significant effects on people’s willingness to pay for online news.

What’s surprising is that neither the normative nor the price transparency appeal is sufficiently convincing on its own. However, combined, they effectively increase audiences’ willingness to pay for online news. Moreover, the findings suggest that adding a digital-specific or social appeal to a subscription pitch that includes both a normative and a price transparency appeal is ineffective. One explanation could be that the more appeals a subscription pitch contains, the longer and more complex it becomes—which might decrease its effectiveness. This suggests that the efficacy of a subscription pitch depends less on the quantity and more on the quality of arguments and how well they work together.

Digital news publishers can leverage these insights to tailor their advertising strategies and enhance subscription uptake. By highlighting the unique features of online news, fostering a sense of community, and emphasizing the societal importance of independent journalism, publishers can increase consumers’ willingness to pay for online news subscriptions. However, it is important to note that normative and price transparency appeals may have a limited impact on subscription intentions on their own, suggesting the need for a multi-faceted approach to advertising online news subscriptions.

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