Paths to subscription: Why recent subscribers chose to pay for news


Funding for the news industry is going through an epochal change, the implications of which cannot be overstated. In the future, virtually all signals suggest less of the revenue will come from advertising and more from consumers paying for news.

The move toward subscriptions will require measuring audiences differently, with analytics that measure deep engagement and not just page views. Publishers will need to segment audiences by their loyalty also and by their eventual likelihood to pay. Perhaps most significantly, the newsroom and business sides of news organizations will be aligned more than before. The move toward subscriptions places the newsroom – and quality content worth paying for – at the center of the business strategy.

To help understand this new landscape, the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, has conducted a series of studies over the last 18 months to understand what moves readers to subscribe.

This latest study may be the largest study ever undertaken of people who have recently subscribed to newspapers. It surveyed people who subscribed in the last three months to 90 local newspapers across the country. The survey of more than 4,100 recent newspaper subscribers captures their motives and mindsets at the time of the decision. The sample was large enough to see differences among large papers and small, reader preferences for digital consumption versus print, Democrats versus Republicans, and a host of other factors.

In this report, API identifies nine distinct "paths to subscriptions" – the motives and conditions that together lead a person to subscribe. Some people are looking for coverage of a particular passion topic. Others have subscribed because of a change in their lifestyle. Some want coupons to save them money. Some discovered the paper through social media. Others want to support journalism as an institution. All are subscribers.

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