New publication: who will pay for online news?

The Journal of Media Business Studies has now published my new research article “The free-to-fee transition: audiences’ attitudes toward paying for online news“. The article is co-authored with Morten Boeck, Jakob Vikær Hansen, and Lars Juul Hadberg Hauschildt and builds, empirically, upon research they did for their master thesis in 2013 (I was the supervisor of this thesis*).

In the article, we present a study of audiences’ attitudes toward and willingness to pay the subscription, which Danish omnibus newspaper Politiken launched on its news website politiken.dk in May, 2013.

Here’s the abstract:

After more than a decade of giving online news away for free, legacy newspaper organisations in many Western countries have recently begun charging audiences for access to online journalistic content. Focusing empirically on a Danish case, this article uses one survey (n = 1054) and two focus groups to examine audiences’ attitudes towards paying for online news. The analysis suggests that audiences’ general principles regarding paying for online news influence their willingness to pay more than the size of the subscription fee. Furthermore, the analysis shows that younger audiences’ willingness to pay increases if they can combine content from different news providers and thereby individualise their news products. The latter in particular can have practical implications as it presents a way forward for economically challenged legacy newspaper organisations, but it might also compromise the democratic ideals of journalism.

The article is, ironically, published behind a paywall, but I can send you an early version upon request.

* Students often do a lot of good work in their master theses, and it is in the final instance paid for by the tax payers (through the Danish system of free access to higher education) who can also use it for something, but it rarely reaches a larger audience than the people who have an obligation to read it – the author, the examiners, and the mothers or partners who cannot say no to proof-reading the final copy. With this article, I am happy to have helped some of the high-quality student-conducted research get out to the public.

Interviewed on media innovation research

These weeks, I am at the Centre for Research on Media Innovations at Oslo University on a visiting fellowship. It is great, and I will write a blog post on it later when I get home to Denmark.

As a part of the visit, I was interviewed on Twitter about my research yesterday. (The interview was conducted by the centre’s official Twitter profile but with Ida Karine Gullvik at the keyboard.) Here, I have put together the whole interview so it can be read as one conversation rather than a number of scattered tweets.

Enjoy – and join the conversation.

New publication: the state of online news

A piece of good news from the publications department: my new research article “Online news: between private enterprise and public subsidy” has just been published by the leading academic journal Media, Culture & Society. The article is co-authored together with Stig Hjarvard from the University of Copenhagen and examines the current economical state of the Danish press in light of recent developments with digital business models and changes subsidy frameworks and is part of a special section (edited by Philip Schlesinger and Alex Benchimol from the University of Glasgow) on media systems in small nations.

Here’s the abstract:

The Nordic countries’ media systems are exemplary of the democratic corporatist model, and newspapers have occupied a very prominent position in the political public sphere supported by wide circulation and a political will to subsidize the press and still keep an arm’s length distance. During past decades, these features have come under pressure due to – among other things – the spread of digital media. In this article, we explore two current structural economic challenges to legacy newspaper organizations in Denmark. The first challenge regards the implementation of subscription on news websites since 2013. The second challenge concerns the revision of the Danish press subsidy law in 2013–2014. The introduction of a ‘platform neutral’ subsidy law could be interpreted as a first step toward rethinking the entire press subsidies system. Taken together, these developments pose serious challenges to the printed press: on the one hand, no viable business model seems ready to replace the old one; on the other hand, a reorientation of the regulatory system, which subsidizes the press, seems under way. Despite the global nature of ongoing transformation (digitalization and commercialization), national particularities continue to influence developments and reflect continued support for the democratic corporatist model.

The article is published behind a paywall, but I can send you an early version upon request.

New website maps free-to-fee transition

These years, the news industry is in a transition period, moving away from the online business model based on offering news free of charge on their news websites. Instead, different subscription models are introduced across the board – on national as well as regional and local news websites. This transition is of most importance to the news industry as it is of vital economic importance for the news organizations that they manage to generate some sort of revenue from their online presence.

However, the knowledge of the consequences of this transition from free to fee is, at best, limited. There seems to be a lot of gut-feeling and guessing involved in the pricing of online news, and it is hard to pinpoint exactly what constitutes a reasonable number of subscribers. This paradox (between high importance and low knowledge) is at the core of my current research project on the digital business models of the press.

In connection with this project, I’ve now launched a new website called Paywall Watch. It will be a site for mapping and documenting the implementation of digital subscriptions on news websites, and my hope is that it will be a most useful resource for researchers, students, analysts, and practitioners within the news industry. The inspiration for the site is to websites is the online work conducted by Dr. Piet Bakker at his blogs Newspaper Innovation and Newspaper Statistics. On those sites, he continuously, meticulously, and thoroughly maps developments and statistics related to two quite specific areas – free dailies and newspaper readership, respectively. The ambition of Paywall Watch is to do the same, only with subscription models on news websites.

For now, the site will focus on Danish news websites only. It’s a question of resources, really, but hopefully it’ll expand its scope and have an international dimension. There is also a blog section which I expect to use down the line; but for now, my focus is on the mapping and documenting effort.

Paywall Watch is live now on . Enjoy.

Update January 21, 2014: Two of the most important Danish sites with news on media and journalism have articles about Paywall Watch today. Click here for the articles on Journalisten.dk (actually a blog post written by me) and MediaWatch.

Update March 19, 2018: I’ve closed Paywall Watch. Some of the same issues will be covered here on this website in the future. See, for example, my timeline of online subscriptions.