When attempting to convince consumers to pay for news subscriptions, publishers should give them multiple reasons to do so, according to a new study conducted by a team of researchers from City University London and Universität München.
The study established four main categories of marketing messages (or “subscription pitches”) and tested the effect each had on a sample of 815 U.K. consumers’ self-reported willingness to pay for online news. The categories were: digital-specific (i.e. replacing print with online access), social (being part of a community), normative (supporting independent journalism), and price transparency (highlighting the difficult economics of news publishing.)
Messages were tested alone and in 11 different combinations of two, three and four approaches. Participants were instructed to imagine they had come across the subscription pitch while browsing the website of a newspaper they like., and although the pitches themselves were not branded for any specific publisher, they were written to mimic common approaches.
The findings showed that no single message proved more effective than any other when presented in isolation. Consumers reacted no differently when asked to support independent journalism than they did when asked to become part of a community, for example.
Combinations of two or more pitches did boost willingness to pay, however, with two combinations proving particularly effective. The first was normative and price transparency (i.e. asking consumers to support independent journalism and why it needs funding to survive.) The second was a three-pronged approach of digital, social and price transparency, (ie focussing on community, why journalism needs funding to survive, and messaging around digital-only products and pricing.)
“Two combinations of advertising messages are sufficiently convincing to increase people’s willingness to pay for online news,” the study wrote. “The combination of the normative appeal with the price transparency appeal, as well as the combination of the digital-specific appeal, the social appeal, and the price transparency appeal. However, the combination of the normative appeal with the price transparency appeal is more convincing. All other combinations of advertising messages have no significant effects on people’s willingness to pay for online news.
The research also found that gender, education, monthly income, and frequency of access to online news via desktop are not significantly associated with people’s willingness to pay. However, the older people are, and the more frequently they access online news via mobile the greater their willingness to pay for online news.