Youth movement in newspaper readership

Younger audiences are consuming more traditional news media content – online, on mobile and even in print.

Cropped man and woman using electronic device free image

by WAN-IFRA Staff | May 4, 2017

In this guest post, Peter G. Marsh shares some findings from a recently conducted newspaper industry study.

While the prevailing view is that consumers – especially younger ones – are shifting their focus away from traditional media, a new survey by L.E.K. Research and NEWSCYCLE Solutions finds just the opposite. Today, young people are becoming the most avid multi-channel news readers, and they are more willing to pay for news content than any other age group.

L.E.K and NEWSCYCLE surveyed over 1,500 newspaper subscribers, readers, and non-readers. A cross-section of age groups from 20-somethings to 60-somethings responded to the survey, and the findings were augmented with interviews from 60 global publishers, senior media executives and directors working in IT, advertising, audience development, editorial, and digital leadership roles.

Our research identified five key segments of newspaper subscribers:

  • Young and Ambitious – representing 11% of today’s subscribers, this segment is the youngest cluster; these readers embrace digital news sites for a broad range of prioritized topics
  • Tech-Savvy News Consumers – accounting for 21% of subscribers, this segment includes readers who trust and use digital news to stay informed
  • Casual Readers – representing 30% of all subscribers, these consumers have longstanding relationships with news media brands and tend to read content in both print and digital form
  • Well-Informed Traditionals – this segment, accounting for 22% of subscribers, represents an older audience with a preference for print, where being informed and up-to-date is a priority
  • Digital Skeptics – at 16% of today’s subscribers, this group is the oldest cluster, made up primarily of print loyalists who enjoy the tradition and familiarity of a physical newspaper

News media consumption is significant and expected to increase

The L.E.K. survey finds that overall time spent consuming news across all five age groups is about 2.5 hours per day. This applies to all platforms and all devices, and news content consumption is expected to increase by 10 minutes per day through 2020.

Our survey respondents currently spend approximately 17 minutes per day reading newspaper content in print or digital form. This is expected to increase to over 18 minutes daily by 2020. Perhaps not surprisingly, the highest-growth platforms include social media, as well as the new generation of connected home devices, TVs and IoT appliances.

All these delivery channels are potentially addressable by strong newspaper brands with the relevant content distribution technology in place.

There is a wellspring of new subscribers

What is surprising is that – contrary to conventional wisdom – our survey finds that younger people are not defecting in droves. News has always been an older-skewing medium; however, the average age of the subscriber base is growing at just 0.8% per year, which is significantly less than the rate of age increase seen, for example, among TV news viewers. In the newspaper space, many consumers are still signing up for new subscriptions, including those in the 18-44 age range.

The Young and Ambitious and Tech-Savvy News Consumer segments represent the wellspring of future newspaper subscriber generations. Both groups heavily over-index when it comes to keeping up-to-date on business and politics.

These younger audiences also show a willingness to pay for premium content.

Approximately 90% of survey respondents in these segments say they would pay for access to high quality digital news. The L.E.K. researchers attribute this to consumers becoming increasingly accustomed to the digital subscription model in general, given the popularity across other media with products like Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime, Apple Music and others.

The Young and Ambitious segment – the group most addicted to mobile and IoT devices – is also especially invested in news content, with 98% indicating a willingness to pay for premium news content and services.

Furthermore, our survey finds these younger segments to have a significant subscription preference for hybrid print plus digital offerings. They split their time evenly between reading news content in the print and digital versions of newspaper products.

Respondents to our survey indicated that 17% of all new print/online newspaper subscriptions were started in the past two years. For readers in the 18-34 age range, 29% started their subscriptions during this same two-year period.

In addition – and this is quite encouraging for the future of traditional news media – the younger audience segments report the highest intent to continue their subscriptions over the next three years.

Almost 97% of the Young and Ambitious readers indicate that they will “Definitely” or “Probably” renew their subscriptions in three years’ time, along with 90% of the Tech-Savvy News Consumers.

These findings are consistent with a February 2017 survey from the Pew Research Center, which found that “When asked about reading, watching or listening to news, younger Americans are more likely than their elders to prefer reading it – though they overwhelmingly prefer to do this reading online. And the new data suggests that the digital outreach efforts for national newspaper brands may have attracted enough younger online readers to overcome a long-standing age gap for newspapers.”

The national brands mentioned in the Pew study include The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Unfortunately, Pew found that this youthful trend did not carry over to local news. “Older adults were much more likely than younger ones to regularly get election news from their local daily papers,” said the Pew researchers.

For all age groups, the hybrid print + digital subscription model is the future

Hybrid print plus digital models account for 45% of subscriptions today, and over-index within the younger subscriber populations. As part of the hybrid model, consumers are clearly keeping print around. This is an important data point for smaller media companies, as attractive print-plus-digital package options might prove valuable in engaging younger readers with local and community content to the same levels as national news.

Nevertheless, our L.E.K. survey confirms that print news still commands a high share of attention for local and national brands. Newspaper subscribers reportedly spend two-thirds of their time with the print product. Although this share is lower for younger more tech-savvy respondents, print still represents about 50% share of time spent among these age groups.

As one Vice President at a major newspaper holding company told researchers during the executive interviews accompanying our study: “We will continue to see new models. There will always be value in journalistic content, but how to monetize this is the big question. We all need help figuring that out.”

The good news here for traditional news media company is that quality, credible content still matters. The future will not be either print or digital; it will be both print and digital. And, younger audiences will very likely lead the way forward.

Peter G. Marsh is Vice President, Marketing at Newscycle Solutions. He joined Newscycle in 2013 from Atex Inc., where he was Senior Vice President of Global Product Management. With more than 30 years’ experience in the media industry, Peter was previously the CEO of 5 Fifteen Inc. He was also the founder and CEO of Deadline Data Systems and Vice President of Web Development at EBSCO Publishing.

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