The debate about the future of journalism rages on, with novel ideas and tantrums from all sides. But this piece of news is sure to give the argument a big shove: More research has shown that most people just won't pay for online newspapers.
Analysists Harris asked one simple question to 2,000 adults who regularly surf the Web: "How much, if anything, would you be willing to pay per month in order to read a daily newspaper's content online?" Before you read on—have a think about that yourself, and come up with a figure you'd find acceptable.
Got a figure in mind? Check out the result's of Harris's poll then:
The figures are almost impossible to question: The vast majority, that's 77%, of those surveyed said their price limit for paying for online newspapers was zero (East coasters were more definite about this with an 81% figure.) That's terrible news for those in the industry who think that future revenues lie in bricking up their news content behind a pay wall. And it gets worse: The 23% segment who are prepared to pay anything at all is dominated by 19% in the "$1 to $10" category—a pitiful sum as far as newspaper moguls would be concerned. Perhaps most damning is the statistic revealed elsewhere in the survey that 10% of those questioned never read a newspaper at all, either physically or online.
This shouldn't be surprising—we've known for years that print newspaper readership is in a slow decline, and those of us who spend much time online are thoroughly used to the idea of paying nothing at all to view Web content. Nevertheless, that stark 77% figure is surely food for thought for the Murdoch-supporters in the news industry.
Will it convince the old guard that paywalls are a dumb idea? Almost certainly not, of course. Those in charge of newsprint's oldest purse strings will argue that their position on paywalls is the right one, and that the public just needs to like it or lump it. They'll probably even throw in the tired old line that this is the only route to go if the tradition of the free (how ironic) press is to be continued into the future. But it seems those advocating this tactic will have a lot of work to do: Convincing nearly 80% of its audience that they're wrong won't be easy.
And there may be another implication, concerning e-readers. Much noise is made about the possibility of e-readers being a new home for traditional newspapers—after all, the e-ink page is typically black and white, and the text is locked, protected, and uneditable (compared to Web pages). But if 77% of people won't pay for online papers, why would they shell out even more pay for an e-reader version?