Canadian Consumers Unwilling to Pay for News Online

News consumers, long used to getting their news free because production costs were mostly subsidized by advertising, are balking at the idea of having to pay for content, now that revenues are falling below the level needed to sustain media operations on both legacy and online platforms.

Graphic of willingness to pay for newsFor the last few years, operators have been scrambling to find a new model that will generate sufficient revenue to keep them afloat. Many, including media titan Rupert Murdoch, have seized on paywalls as the panacea for what ails the news business but consumers are not prepared to go along, according to a collaborative survey conducted recently by the Canadian Media Research Consortium (CMRC) and Vision Critical.

The internet survey of 1,682 adults showed that Canadians are overwhelmingly opposed to fees for content. Ninety-two per cent of those who get news online said they would find another free site if their favourite news sites started charging for content.

Somewhat surprisingly, there is little or no difference among age groups, educations levels or urban and rural populations on this question. At present, approximately 85 per cent of internet users in Canada get news online at least once a month.

If media owners insist on going ahead with paywalls against these odds, 81 per cent of consumers say they would not pay to continue reading their favourite online news site. Only four per cent overall are willing to pay and the other 15 per cent are unsure. Here, there are no significant differences among those unwilling or unsure about paying but there is some variation in the results for the sexes and language groups, among those willing to pay.

Men (5%) seem more willing than women (2%). French speakers (6%) are more willing than English speakers (3%). There is also more willingness as education and income levels rise but keep in mind that these results apply only to four per cent who read news online.

So long as these attitudes prevail, media owners had best start looking elsewhere for new revenue streams. Having gotten used to news online for free, people seem adamant that they won't pay.

Full report: Canadian Consumers Unwilling to Pay for News Online (PDF)

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