Most consumers are willing to pay for online news

By Greg Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


Today, I am analysing and contextualising the new data from Oxford’s Reuters Institute — and finding a more positive outlook than the academics.

If you have questions or suggestions, e-mail me at or meet me in New Delhi at the INMA South Asia News Media Festival in July.

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

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. 

Pricing: Are news brands discounting online subscriptions too much?

Forty-one percent of news subscribers said 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.

About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Grzegorz “Greg” Piechota, INMA’s researcher-in-residence and lead for the Readers First Initiative. In his newsletters, Greg shares original research, analysis, and best practices in growing reader revenue.

E-mail Greg at, message him on Slack, or meet him in person at the INMA World Congress of News Media in London next week.

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.