While declining circulation and advertising revenue have led many news publishers to shrink their staff and rely more on content sourced from news wires, that content is found less effective in making people subscribe.
This is the conclusion of a new 2020 study by researchers of the Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.
Academics analysed how the mix of in-house and wired stories impacted online readers’ decisions to subscribe at a large regional U.S. newspaper. The studied newspaper launched its paywall in 2017. The meter allowed non-subscribers to access up to 10 free articles per month.
During 12 months of analysed data, the newspaper published on its Web site, on average, 118 in-house articles and 153 wired stories a day.
The researchers found in-house content was generally more effective than wired content at converting visitors to subscribers.
- Specifically, publishing 10 more in-house articles a day could increase subscription rate by 15%.
- On the other hand, publishing 10 more wired stories a day could decrease the subscription rate by 11%.
“Our results speak to [broad] concern that by going digital and online, newspapers may lose their unique identity and once prominent status,” commented the authors of the study, Xiaoli Yang, Professor Nachiketa Sahoo, and Professor Timothy Simcoe. “We find that readers are still willing to pay for unique content that newspapers have to offer, which suggests that digital technologies do not redefine newspapers; their identity and status are built on the content they produce.”
The academics also observed the impact of the content source on subscriptions varied by topic.
- In the three largest topic categories measured by content volume — general news, sports, and entertainment — the in-house content had positive effect on willingness to subscribe.
- In contrast, wire news on these three topics had either no effect (sports, entertainment) or negative effect (general news).
- Although wire content had an overall negative effect, wire business articles had a positive effect on subscription. “This may be a category where wire agencies have staff closer to the financial sector and therefore are able to provide coverages that the newspaper’s newsroom is unable to match,” commented the study’s authors.
- Interestingly, neither in-house nor wire opinion pieces affected readers’ willingness to subscribe.
“Against the trend of tabloidization of news in some popular media, we find that readers still value many hard news and some in-house soft news,” observed the researchers. “The category level results suggest that newspapers should be strategic with their content sourcing decisions.”
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