95% unwilling to pay for local news online, but why should that stop us charging?

Ninety-five per cent of users won’t pay for online news content – that’s according to a poll I ran on www.sunderlandecho.com for 24 hours yesterday.

Visitors responded as follows to our multiple choice questionnaire:

How much are you prepared to pay for news content online?
Nothing  95% (378 votes)
5p per article  0% (1 vote)
£1 per month for unlimited access  2% (12 votes)
£19.99 per year for unlimited access  2% (10 votes)
43p per day for unlimited access             1% (5 votes)

Interesting that there is next to no interest in the kind of micro-charging suggested by Rupert Murdoch recently.

Given the Echo’s unique users stood at just over 258,000 in July 2009, if we extrapolated the above figures we’d pull in the following revenue at each price point*:

5p per article = £8,890 (assuming ten articles downloaded per month)
£1 per month = £17,145 
£19.99 per year = £15, 867
43p per day (assuming they pay every day) = £40,957

*These figures are calculated by adding together the revenue per person per month at the price point x the number of respondents willing to pay at the relevant price point and at higher prices points x 635 (the sample of 406 people was just over 1/635th of the total audience of unique users)

The resultant drop in page impressions if we did charge would doubtless have a huge impact on advertising revenues, and the loss even in terms of dreaded CPM could offset the gains. However, it’s food for thought to consider that at only a fraction of our current audience we could comfortably cover the current wage bill for one dedicated member of editorial staff at the Echo.

Plus, with 95% of our current audience to aim for as a target for garnering extra subscriptions, is there a case for flicking the switch now and charging a fee for what we currently give away for free?

I guess the major caveat here is respondents did not specify the type of news content they would pay for. ‘News content’ could cover everything from live video feeds of major international events produced by the BBC to three-paragraph snooker updates from our local Green Baize club.

So the question remains, do we serve up the content people want and are willing to pay for? I’d say ‘yes’, but I would, wouldn’t I?


  1. There are so many news media outlets that it would be a near improbability to convince users/readers to pay for view.

    I think a pay for view charge would simply lead to an explosion on new websites offering free viewing and charging for advertising.

    • leehall

      It’s possible free sites will spring up, but bear in mind the only reason the website I work for exists is because it’s attached to a newspaper staffed with a team of reporters, subs, snappers etc. Quality news gathering is an expensive business, which would probably provide a barrier to entry for bedroom start-ups and bigger outfits would struggle to employ enough people to cover many local markets in the depth we can.

      I have to say I’m not necessarily in favour of charging for content, but I think these figures beg the question of whether it’s worth a try. We certainly aren’t monetising the web through ads in my little corner of the world wide web…

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