Are news brands discounting online subscriptions too much?

By Greg Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


Forty-one percent of news subscribers say they were paying a lower price than advertised as full rates. How do prices and the discounting level in online news compare to other media sectors like streaming?

Oxford’s Reuters Institute documented an extent of news publishers’ discounting in the 2024 Digital News Report. Across 20 markets, 41% of subscribers said they were paying less than full price. 

Is 41% too much?

Streaming as price reference

The researchers asked consumers to recall the price they paid and then compared with the advertised full rate for a standard plan. 

For the purpose of this analysis, let us assume the respondents knew the prices they paid well. (Other research finds only 10%-20% consumers recall prices of everyday items correctly.)

What would be the full price? US$14.2/month. Across 20 countries, the proportion of people who said they were paying less than that varied from 21% in France to 78% in Poland.

Reuters Institute’s report also showed the advertised prices for basic news subscriptions were related to video and audio streaming prices. 

A median advertised monthly price for news was, on average, 7% higher than the price of Netflix in the same markets and 29% higher than the price of Spotify.

This is supported by previous studies showing other media subscriptions are points of reference for news consumers.

Normal discounting levels

The level of discounting in online news is similar to other online media sectors. 

Per Antenna’s Pricing and Packaging Report, 40% of video streaming subscribers paid less than full price in 2023. 

This proportion decreased to 35% in 1Q 2024 after major providers introduced cheaper ad-supported plans, now counted as “full priced” too.

In a developing market, marketing textbooks advise one should prioritise maximising the market share and pricing for penetration.

As media companies grow online subscriptions, they face lower willingness to pay from casual consumers who access news less frequently and spend less time on it. 

The surveys indeed show most potential future subscribers are happy to pay less than US$6 per month for the current product, which is roughly half of the advertised full price.

To grow both volume and revenue from subscribers, news media companies may need to expand product lines to serve consumers at different price points.

For example, they could apply the video streaming playbook:

  • Introduce cheaper, ad-supported basic plans for casual consumers.

  • Introduce more expensive, premium plans with extra content or features for fans and heavy users.

  • And bundle multiple products to increase the value and appeal to consumers with different needs.

Greg’s Readers First newsletter is a public face of a revenue and media subscriptions initiative by INMA, outlined here. INMA members can subscribe here.

About Greg Piechota

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