Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Strength in Content: Seven Ways to Make Your Digital Audience Pay for News

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Strength in Content: Seven Ways to Make Your Digital Audience Pay for News

Article excerpt


Spring 1997. The newspaper I edit launches one of the few online newspapers in the country. But we don't put any articles on our free website until the print edition of the newspaper has been delivered to our subscribers. We don't want paid print subscribers to think we are giving away what they are paying for.

Spring 2007. Three days before the story is reported in the mainstream media, my 23-year-old son tells me NFL quarterback Michael Vick is being investigated for his involvement in dog-fighting. "Where did you get this information?" I ask. "From a website I subscribe to."

Spring 2017. A national study of more than 2,000 adults shows half of them pay for a digital news subscription (often their local newspaper site) and many in the other half are thinking about it. Even young people are using the paid subscription model for news. You can read the study at

A lot has changed in 20 years.

This study by the Media Insight Project should breathe life and encouragement into many moribund newsrooms where the last 10 years have seemed like a painfully slow death march. As Dr. Frankenstein said, "There's life in the old cadaver yet." And as Tom Rosenstiel, executive director at the American Press Institute, said, "This was not a complete shock." A previous study showed similar findings.

The unique strength that newspapers have is content, especially local content. And the Media Insight Project debunks the myth that that people will not pay for that content. They will if it is what they want. Rosenstiel noted the respondents had to name--they were not prompted--the news source they subscribed to. There is a real connection there.

The Media Insight Project showed people subscribe to news sites because the content on a key topic is in depth and excellent. They want to be informed and they are willing to pay for that information.

Here are seven ways that the project recommends newsrooms ought to be using this study data to capture more of the digital audience.

(1) Excel at covering the major stories in your community. News payers (particularly the higher-income group) really want to be informed about the most important issues in the place where they live. If you are that source, they will invest in you. "You have to be indispensable," Rosenstiel said.

(2) Do your research. The study says there are many people not paying who look just like the paid subscribers. …

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