Research: news execs still think they have a monopoly

Statistics from the American Press Institute paint a strong picture of the disconnect between news executives and readers that covers

  • how much content is valued by execs and readers,
  • how easy the two camps think it is to find alternative sources of news; and
  • where readers would go if the website was turned off. That last question shows the biggest disconnect,

As reproduced below, an incredible 75% news execs think switching off their websites will drive people to their newspapers. Readers, however, are saying they would go to another local website, with other prominent alternatives including regional and national websites, TV and radio (note that news execs also feel that ‘local media sites’ will benefit but users disagree):

Alternative Likely to be Selected if Local Newspaper Web Site No Longer Available (% of Respondents)
News Provider Provider Perception Reader Perception
Your print newspaper



Other local media sites






Other local Web sites






Regional/National sites



Other newspaper






Don’t know



Source: American Press Institute, November 2009

Meanwhile, only 9% of news executives think it would be “very easy” for users to find replacement for the online content their news websites are currently providing. That figure rises to 19% for users themselves, and 52% think it would be “very” or “somewhat” easy (only 31% of news providers share that view).

In case it wasn’t clear from the above, the research looks at the pricing of paywalls and suggests that news executives are making strategic decisions based on a lack of knowledge of the market they’re operating in:

“Current prices for online subscriptions strongly suggest that “convenience” pricing is generally in play, not tied to rigorous price analysis or research into what people are willing to pay. Respondents report a wide range of online subscription charges (from $1 to $27.50 a month), yet they report surprisingly uniform levels of uptake on subscriptions, typically 1% to 3% of print circulation, regardless of price.”

6 thoughts on “Research: news execs still think they have a monopoly

  1. An Nguyen

    One thing these figures seem to suggest is that Murdoch’s current desperate search for online revenues via pay walls is due to die. Interesting to see where this dilemma will lead him and his news business to.

  2. John Hopkins

    I’m not sure reader perceptions of the ease of finding alternative sources of news are necessarily accurate. Someone should design a study to find out, over a sample period of perhaps a month, how much the websites in a given community deliver, compared to the local newspaper.

  3. Matt Wardman

    I’d suggest that:

    a – There *is* room for creative use of paywalls.
    b – Perhaps there is a USA/UK difference – these are US figures.
    c – One category that will naturally live outside paywalls is that which doesn’t have to be paid for, such as Comment is Free. Where they can trade platform profile for free content which generates a bit of revenue they will.
    d – I haven’t seen any British media sites deal with the “citation” problem when they hide their most authoritative articles. e.g., This FT blog post depends on source articles behind the paywall:

  4. Paul Bradshaw

    @John – That would be a great study, but it would not be particularly relevant to where readers actually go when a website is closed. People buy newspapers for all sorts of reasons, including classifieds, weather, crosswords, cartoons, readers’ letters, adverts, that they will go elsewhere to get. We often seem to forget that.

    1. John Hopkins

      You could just as easily study where such features are offered besides the newspaper site. It happens that what interests me most is where readers will learn the things they need to vote intelligently and cope with the world. There’s plenty of room for several kinds of studies.

      1. An Nguyen

        Yes, I agree. And I think this is an area where public service media will play a critically important role in the future. Despite all the fuss about their declining relevance in the digital age, public service media are all the more needed these days. But their approaches might have to be adjusted to more actively and effectively accommodate local and reginal needs. A collection of local/community news sites hosted on, with more involvement of BBC-trained and -supported citizen writers might be a good way to go. The big question, though, is still where the fund will come from.

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