Those concerned about the fate of newspapers and the independent press may be interested in a new Dutch study about paying for news.
A group of 68 people were given a free, three-week newspaper subscription and then asked whether they would pay for one.
Sadly, “None of the participants explicitly stated they would convert to a paid subscription,” wrote author Tim Groot Kormelink, an assistant professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
The main reason was price. Younger participants said they’d have to cut spending on something else, while older ones were concerned about the long-term cost.
The study sample had limitations, such as being dominated by people in their 20s and 50s.
Across the Netherlands, only 17% of the population paid for online news last year, which is fairly average but lower than other Nordic countries. Comparisons are also limited because of the country’s media landscape, including trusted public media, and less polarization than the U.S., the study noted.
Interviews found a perception that news was expensive. But some study participants didn’t know the price and were surprised to find out how little it actually cost.
The second big reason mentioned was the amount of freely available news online. Participants said free sources online, including the limited number of stories that newspapers share before requiring payment, are “sufficient to get a general sense of what is going on.”
This speaks to the dilemma for newspapers trying to transition to digital models. It also highlights the need for local newspapers to find ways to get fair compensation from online platforms, whose credibility and appeal is enhanced by the journalism service and flow of content that newspapers provide.
Some study participants also had delivery and technical issues that made them opt out.
On the positive side, the study found younger participants accepted the notion of paying for news, similar to the way they subscribe to Netflix and Spotify.
That suggests the younger generation may be willing subscribers as they age and if their budget situations improve. It also echoes the experience at The Seattle Times, where millennials now account for a large share of subscribers.
There are other reasons to remain hopeful. After trying newspapers for three weeks, “Some participants realized that the quality of this news was better than the news they consumed for free.”
Some also saw subscriptions as a “commitment device” that would encourage them to read the news more often, especially print subscriptions. The study quoted two participants in their 20s who said they may get a print paper for that reason.
“Yeah, it did make me see the value of a print newspaper … something you make use of as a separate moment … and because of that, in my case at breakfast, just take some time for to look at in its entirety,” a participant identified as Thomas, 28, said.
We should count on people like Thomas to come around eventually — not just to sustain the news industry, but to have informed and engaged citizens.
Show tragic images?: Among the ideas floated to finally get the United States to address its perverse gun obsession: Start publishing images of children killed as a result. “Couldn’t have imagined saying this years ago, but it’s time — with the permission of a surviving parent — to show what a slaughtered 7-year-old looks like,” David Boardman, a former executive editor of The Seattle Times and current dean of Temple University’s Klein College tweeted, prompting a robust debate. “Maybe only then will we find the courage for more than thoughts and prayers.”
Publisher stamp: Katharine Graham, the late publisher of The Washington Post, is being honored with a new postage stamp. Graham took over the company after her husband died unexpectedly in 1963 and went on to lead it “to the forefront of some of journalism’s biggest moments” including the Pentagon Papers, Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation, the U.S. Postal Service announcement said. She was the first female head of a Fortune 500 company “and a pivotal figure during turbulent moments in U.S. history.”
Graham’s image will grace a 2 ounce, 78-cent mail stamp available June 14. The Post’s current publisher, Jeff Bezos, is admirably carrying the torch but it remains to be seen whether the free-shipping king will receive a similar treatment.
This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletter. Sign up to receive it at the Save the Free Press website here.