LONDON/OXFORD: Although consumers continue to value online news brands, especially in an era of “fake news”, many see little point in paying for their content, yet new research suggests there are effective ways of encouraging consumers to pay.

In a report prepared for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Kantar Media explored consumer attitudes to paying for online news across four countries – the US, UK, Finland and Spain.

A series of focus groups conducted in February and March 2017, combined with other fieldwork, confirmed that news brands are valued and would be missed if they ceased to exist.

However, consumers show little recognition of the financial difficulties the news industry faces and, even when this is explained, tend to see this as a problem for the industry to solve rather than the consumer.

Even though free sources of online news are very likely to persist, coupled with an abundance of news sources generated by aggregators and social media, the Kantar research still managed to identify three key areas where consumers indicate they are prepared to pay.

These include consumers’ appreciation of specialist and exclusive content – in effect, as in other areas of life, the recognition that scarcity helps to increase value.

Secondly, Kantar recommended that news brands promote what it called “evergreen content” because longevity suggests deeper analysis, which also conveys value.

Third, consumers welcome plurality of views and perspectives, especially as social media, online search and aggregators have heightened sensitivity to the value of impartiality.

Following these findings, Kantar advised news brands to emphasise the quality of their professional journalism, to do more to educate the public about the financial difficulties the industry faces, and to be more flexible about their subscription models.

For example, consumers welcome low-cost trials because they overcome concerns about any risk of commitment. They are also open to commercial content that delivers value for them, such as relevant e-commerce offers.

“This research suggests that consumers may be more interested in paying for experiences that aggregate multiple news brands and perspectives than for any single brand,” the report said. “Quality of content, brand benefits and convenience will also need to improve markedly if news organisations are to succeed in charging for news online.”

Kantar Media and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism also co-hosted an event in London to discuss the findings combined with further insight from three industry experts – Chris Duncan, Managing Director of Times Newspapers Ltd; Denise Law, Head of Strategic Product Development at The Economist; and Peter Hickman, the Telegraph Media Group’s Managing Director of Subscriptions.

When asked where they see the industry in five years’ time, all three expressed optimism even though, according to Chris Duncan of the Times, there will be fewer ad-funded publishers. Instead, he predicted, paying for premium content will be “normalised”.

Data sourced from Kantar Media, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism; additional content by WARC staff