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Newspaper paywalls slowly increasing, but online news is still mostly free

Pay models across media types
Pay models across media types

More than two-thirds of leading newspapers (69%) across the EU and US are operating some kind of online paywall, a trend that has increased since 2017, especially in the US where this has increased from 60% to 76%. However, fears about paywalls limiting access to online news are ‘overblown’, according to a study of over 200 news outlets across seven countries, with hard paywalls that completely restrict access to non-fee payers being very rare. With almost all television organisations and digital-born media offering free access to online news, a majority (53%) of all news outlets studied are available at no cost.

These are some of the key findings from new research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Pay Models for Online News in the US and Europe: 2019 Update, by Felix Simon and Lucas Graves. The study examines 212 news outlets – newspapers, weekly newspapers or magazines, broadcasters and digital-born news outlets – across seven countries in Europe and the US.

Lead author of the report Felix Simon said: “We see that a growing number of news organisations across Europe and in the US are trying to find new, sustainable business models in order to make up for the revenue shortfall caused by a rapidly changing business environment. In this context, paywalls are increasingly popular with publishers, who are challenging the assumption that people will not pay for digital news.

At the same time, recent research shows that the number of people willing to pay for news is slowly growing. The challenge for news organisations now is to deliver such quality content, and the kind of user experience and convenience that people have come to expect from digital media, and to market their offers to the many who are currently not paying for journalism, but might do so in the future.”

The fact sheet also finds that of those news organisations which operate some type of paywall, monthly fees range from as little as €2 (£1.74) to €41.50 (£36), averaging €14.09 (£12.21). Payment trends vary a great deal between countries and publication type. Business newspapers charge the most, with the UK’s Financial Times topping the list. The UK overall charges the highest average fees for newspapers and weeklies (€17.45/£15.12 per month), but has the lowest proportion of titles requiring such payments. At the opposite end, Poland’s average monthly asking price is €9.27 (£8.04).

The study also finds that while almost all (94%) digital-born news outlets, for now, offer free access, with just two publications running a paywall, and that all broadcasters continue to offer free access to digital content, some corners of the media are rapidly adopting payment models with just 27% of regional newspapers offering free access compared to 36% just two years ago.

Read the fact sheet >>