Why won’t Brits pay for news?

Connor IbbetsonData Journalist
June 19, 2020, 7:28 AM UTC

Britons are reluctant to pay for news subscriptions, and many actually believe that companies putting important stories behind paywalls is wrong

Many news organisations were already struggling to maintain profitability when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and it has now pushed them to the brink. Several publications have been forced to furlough staff, or even shut down altogether.

But news consumption remains high, with 56% of Brits reading online at least once a week and a third (32%) checking every single day. A quarter (27%) still say they buy a print copy at least once a week, despite a long-term downward trend. So why are publications struggling?

In total, 74% of regular news readers are not paid subscribers to a news outlet, either online or in print. Half (52%) of regular news readers say they have never subscribed to a news service, either online or in print, and they never intend to in the future. A further 8% say they used to subscribe to a news service but no longer do.

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Only a quarter (23%) of news readers are currently subscribed to a news service – this is notably higher among those from ABC1 backgrounds (29%) who are twice as likely to have a subscription, compared to those from C2DE backgrounds (15%).

The most popular reason among those who don’t want to subscribe to a news service is the availability of free services, such as the BBC and non-paywall newspaper websites (39%).

Interestingly, 20% of news readers opt to not subscribe because they prefer purchasing print newspapers as and when they want them.

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Despite our recent research on trust in newspaper journalists being low for certain types of newspapers – a lack in trust was not among the top answers for not subscribing to news services. One in eleven (9%) news readers do not trust journalists, or think the quality of journalism is too poor to justify paying for it.

Further evidence of the unwillingness of Britons to subscribe to news services is that most think nationally important news stories should not be put behind paywalls, and thus limited to only subscribers. Overall 51% of Britons think doing so is unacceptable, with 33% saying it is very unacceptable.

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Just over a third (37%) think putting paywalls in front of nationally important news stories is acceptable for news organisations to do, with 11% saying doing so is very acceptable.

Despite the majority thinking it is unacceptable for news organisations to limit who can view important stories, the plurality of Brits still think piracy of such articles is just as bad as illegally downloading other forms of media. Two in five (41%) say that pirating a news article is no different to illegally downloading other media.

A quarter (27%) say it is more acceptable to copy the text from a news article that is behind a paywall and share it online compared to more conventional piracy.

See full results here