New data: How many consumers are willing to pay for online news?

By Greg Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


Seventeen percent of consumers across 20 richer countries surveyed by Oxford’s Reuters Institute are currently paying or using paid online news. Further 36% would consider paying in the future. News publishers have an opportunity to triple today’s penetration to 53%.

This is based on my analysis of the survey data published last week by the Reuters Institute in the 2024 Digital News Report. 

My interpretation of the data is different from the commentary offered by the report’s authors, who wrote: “Most people are not willing to pay for what is currently on offer.” 

The negative outlook is repeated in the trade press, for example, in the Nieman Lab: “Most don’t want to pay anything at all.”

Respectfully, I believe the data is actually telling a more optimistic story.

Sizing the market potential

Similarly to the institute’s researchers, I focus my analysis on the 20 richer countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States (full list in the table below).

The average proportion of respondents saying they paid for or used paid online news service has almost doubled since 2014 from 10% to 17%. This includes digital subscriptions, digital and print bundles, donations, or one-off payments for an article or app or e-edition.

Let me analyse the data for the United States, the world’s biggest online news subscription market.

  • In 2024, 22% of the U.S. respondents said they “paid for online news content or accessed a paid for online news service in the last year.”

  • Of the remaining 78% of non-payers, 44% said they hypothetically would be happy to pay a fair price in the future (the survey asked specifically for that fair price).

  • This means among U.S. adults, there are 22% current customers and 34% potential customers (78% X 44% = 34%).

  • Therefore, the consumer market potential for the current paid online news products in the U.S. at any price higher than zero is 56% adults (22% + 34% = 56%).

  • That is nearly triple the number of today’s payers (56% ÷ 22% = 2.6), and it indicates a significant market growth opportunity for news brands in the United States.

Significant growth opportunities

I did the same calculations for 20 markets, for which data was published in the public report, and estimated the average market potential for online paid news at 53% of all adult consumers. 

That would suggest a 3.5 times opportunity for growing paid online access from today, assuming the current product and any price higher than zero.

The market opportunity varies across countries:

  • From 1.8 times growth for highly penetrated Norway, where 40% pay or use online paid news today, but 73% potentially could in the future, per the survey.

  • To 5.5 times growth for lowly penetrated Italy, where 10% pay or use online paid news today, but 55% could.

These estimates of significant growth opportunities in all 20 markets are consistent with the results of my previous subscription ceiling analyses based on historical newspaper circulation data. 

When comparing the online news subscription penetration in 2023 to print penetration back in 2002, I saw an average 4.4 times gap or growth potential across 35 markets (so a broader set of countries than the 20 analysed in this article).

Methodology constraints

Consumer surveys have limitations. What respondents say may not reflect what they really think or do. That’s why we sometimes see a discrepancy between surveys and other data.

For example, per the Digital News Report, the average proportion of respondents saying they had an ongoing subscription to online news increased since 2021 from 12% to 13%. This 1 percentage point change means 8% growth over the past three years.

At the same time, per INMA Benchmarks, a median news brand worldwide saw a 63% growth in the total number of digital-only subscriptions. This is based on sales data of 238 news brands in 35 countries (1Q 2024 vs. 1Q 2021).

Reuters Institute reports a stagnation for online subscriptions in the past year, while transactional data showed a median growth of 14% (1Q 2024 vs. 1Q 2023).

This discrepancy between the Reuters Institute’s surveys has puzzled the industry analysts before, leading to calls for a review of its methodology and official interpretations. 

Different data types, sources, definitions, samples … in spite of methodology and interpretation puzzles, the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report remains the single biggest continuous study into online news consumption worldwide. It is based on online questionnaires from more than 95,000 adults in 47 markets, and the findings are critically reviewed by peer academics.

Disclosure: The author is a former senior visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute. 

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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