French and Germans shun online news but they’re digi-savvy in Japan, US and Brazil

One of the largest comparative studies of online news habits ever carried out reveals national differences in our online behaviour.

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2013 is now available to read and download.

Most of the Germans and French surveyed said that although they are connected online, they prefer traditional media. Nearly 6 out of 10 (55%) Germans said they read newspapers each week, while most French respondents relied on TV and radio for news.

By contrast, the Japanese and Americans were the most likely of the countries studied to use the non-traditional news sites and online aggregators. Meanwhile, Brazilians living in towns and cities favoured social media (47%) as a source of news.

This is the second Digital News Report published by Reuters Institute. You Gov online polls commissioned by RISJ were conducted with 11,000 online users in the UK, US, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Brazil and Japan.

The survey also shows surprising national differences in the rate of online participation. The Spanish (27%), Italians (26%), and Americans (21%) were more than twice as likely to comment on a news story via a social network as the British (10%).

Meanwhile urban Brazilians were five times more likely to comment on a news site than the Germans or Japanese surveyed, and nearly half (44%) shared a news story on a weekly basis via a social network, with around one third (32%) doing so by email.

Study author Nic Newman, a Research Associate at the Reuters Institute and digital strategist, said:

Our findings suggest that the culture of a country is the main driver for how we engage with online news – playing an even greater part than the technical tools and devices we have to access it. People living in Brazil, Italy and Spain have much higher levels of interaction, both with the news sites and with each other, sharing and commenting about news stories. By contrast, although the Japanese appear to embrace the non traditional news sites, they have the lowest level of online and offline participation, followed by Germany, Denmark and the UK.

A recent innovation has been the development of live blogs as a way of covering breaking news and sports stories. More than one third (35%) of the Japanese surveyed used these live pages at least once a week with the French (19%), Italians (16%) and Spanish (16%) also enthusiastic.

Only 8% of the Danish and German respondents accessed live blogs, preferring to read longer articles (40% and 47% respectively).

The survey also reveals that for many of us, the mobile phone is the main way of accessing news when we are on the move.

In Denmark, people using public transport are twice as likely to get the news on their mobile phone (63%) than read a printed newspaper (33%); while in the UK, on public transport almost half (48%) of those surveyed said they used their mobile phones for news, with one third (34%) preferring to read newspapers and 6% using tablets.

In contrast, the computer dominates news use in the office and the radio remains king for those travelling by car.

The report identifies 25-34 year olds as the age group most willing to pay for online news across all nine countries surveyed. Yet just over one in ten (11%) of online users of all ages who participated in the survey said they had paid for news in the last year – about one third higher than the average in the 2012 survey. 

The report says that this rapid increase can be partly explained by the relatively low starting base, but it highlights significant growth in the percentage of consumers who have paid for digital news in countries such as the UK, France, Germany, and US.

Of those who are not currently paying, across all the countries more than one in ten (14%), on average, said they were 'very likely', or 'somewhat likely', to pay for digital news in the future.

While half (50%) of the global sample, on average, said they had bought a printed newspaper in the last week, only 5% said they had paid for digital news within the same period.

This report says that this low percentage paying for online news can be partly explained by the fact that most online newspapers currently do not charge for news, but it notes that the media landscape is changing rapidly with more news providers now starting to erect 'paywalls', or sell combined news subscriptions and app-based purchases.