Dr. Iris Chyi: “Serious concerns” about viability of metro papers subscription model


By Dr. Iris Chyi

University of Texas
Author of Trial and Error: U.S. Newspapers’ Digital Struggles toward Inferiority

I am sharing with you our newly published study on 50 U.S. major newspapers’ paywall results after the Trump Bump. The journal is offering free access till the end of May in case you are interested.

Here is the executive summary:

While U.S. newspapers have been trying to reduce their reliance on advertising and increase reader revenue, research on consumers’ response to digital news products provides little support for such a strategy. As a reality check, this study examines 50 U.S. newspapers’ digital subscription results through analyzing their circulation and pricing data. Results revealed that they charged digital subscribers a fraction of the print subscription price, but digital subscribership remained small, contributing only 3% of total reader revenue.

Key findings:

  • Even after the “Trump Bump, these newspapers’ digital subscribership was, in most cases, underwhelming. On average, only 5,556 subscribers paid for these newspapers’ digital nonreplica (Web and app) edition, which was only 6% of their print circulation. Even with digital replica subscribers (5,696), total digital circulation was only 12% of print circulation. (Note that print circulation has been declining for decades.)
  • Digital nonreplica subscriptions were sold at 23% of the price for a print subscription. Deep discounts for new digital subscribers were common practice at 25 cents per week.
  • With a price so low and a subscribership so small, it is estimated that digital subscriptions generated only 3% of total subscription revenue.

Digital performance as weak as such indicates a consistent lack of paying intent, raising serious concerns about the viability of the subscription model as a revenue source for digital journalism.

Download the full paper (free access till the end of May).