More publishers in Europe, US turning to paywalls: Study

As traditional revenue sources continue to decline and a major share of advertising revenue is claimed by tech giants, more publishers in Europe and the United States are turning to the subscription model, according to new research.

by Neha Gupta | May 9, 2019

A study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that a mere 27 percent of the largest regional titles, examined across seven countries in the European Union and the United States, offer free content to their readers, down from 36 percent in 2017.

The report, Pay Models For Online News in the US and Europe: 2019 Update, by Felix Simon and Lucas Graves, examines 212 news outlets – dailies, weekly newspapers or magazines, broadcasters and digital-born news outlets.

The US has seen a sharper rise in paywalls than the EU. About 48 percent of US outlets now have a paywall, compared to 38 percent in 2017.

This increase stems exclusively from newspapers, of which 76 percent have a pay model in place in 2019, up 16 percent from 2017.

During the same period, the number of paywalls from EU countries covered in the research has stayed nearly flat, rising just 1 percent to 46 percent in 2019.

While this shift is in line with other research about news outlets cultivating a wider range of revenue sources such as native advertising, e-commerce and events, it is not mirrored across the rest of the industry with 53 percent of the outlets examined continuing to offer free access to digital news.

“We see that a growing number of news organisations across Europe and in the US are trying to find new, sustainable business models in order to make up for the revenue shortfall caused by a rapidly changing business environment. In this context, paywalls are increasingly popular with publishers, who are challenging the assumption that people will not pay for digital news.” –Felix Simon, lead author of the report

Here are the key findings:

  • Sixty-nine percent of the newspapers are operating a paywall – a slight increase from 64.5 percent in 2017.
  • Hard paywalls are rare, with most publishers split between using freemium models and metered paywalls (33 percent each).
  • About half of weekly newspapers and news magazines (52 percent) operate a pay model, a drop of 10 percent from 2017. Freemium models are the most popular, followed by metered paywalls and hard paywalls.
  • Just as in 2017, broadcasters continue to offer free access to their digital news.
  • Ninety-four percent of “digital-born” news outlets offer free access to their news.
  • For those using pay models, the cheapest average monthly subscription (without discounts) in 2019 is €14.09 (£12.21), about the same as 2017. Prices range from as little as €2 (£1.74) to €41.50 (£36) a month.Average prices for pay modelsAverage prices for pay models

The EU countries examined include a few that have strong private sector and public service media as well as countries with historically weaker private sector media and less well-funded and widely used public service media. The markets studied also differ in terms of size, advertising expenditure, and the degree of competition they face from international content.

The United States has a strong, highly competitive private sector, but a much weaker public service media.

Most of the main dailies and weeklies in Finland, France, Germany, Poland, and the United States have adopted pay models. By contrast, most major dailies and weeklies in the UK and Italy still offer free access to their digital news.

Monthly prices vary dramatically across titles and countries, according to the paywall model implemented – metered, freemium and hard paywalls. Prices also vary by market orientation, with noticeable differences among business, up-market, regional, and tabloid papers.

Not surprisingly, business newspapers are the most expensive, with an average price per month of €28.32 (£24.55) across the seven countries. They are also the only category that has consistently had pay models in place in both years studied.Pay models across media typesPay models across media types

Research (Fletcher and Nielsen 2016, Newman 2018) suggests that some people across all age groups are willing to pay for quality content.

The challenge for news organisations is to develop and deliver products that satiate the user’s expectations, and to then market those offerings to people who are not paying for journalism but might be persuaded to do so.

Neha Gupta

Multimedia Journalist

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