Welcome API’s research fellow Tracy Cook: Gauging digital subscription prices of US newspapers

Early this year, news outlets reported a rise in subscriptions. It was quickly dubbed the “Trump bump,” as apparently a heightened interest in news translated into more subscriptions for some newspapers.

Generally, the narrative arc of paid-for journalism goes something like this: Print subscriptions are down, so revenue from print ads is also lower. Digital subscriptions are up, as is online ad revenue, but not enough to make up for losses in print.

As readers make the transition from paid print to paid online, or free online to paid online, several questions arise: How can price affect subscription volume? Does it depend on where the consumer resides? Do regional or national newspapers have an edge in gaining digital readers? What value does an online subscription provide?

A lot of the existing research focuses on what people are (or aren’t) willing to pay, instead of focusing on what news companies charge, and what pricing strategies or bundles have been successful.

As an API 2017 research fellow, I am working on a project to help synthesize pricing information for newsrooms and their audiences. Through the project, I hope to establish a baseline knowledge of digital news subscription pricing, as well as help readers understand what they are paying for, or would be paying for, when they subscribe to news websites.

I’m currently a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and taking part in the school’s Washington program led by Barbara Cochran. I’m most interested in research related to media economics and revenue models for legacy media organizations seeking long-term sustainability.

The press remains an important part of our First Amendment rights and democracy as a whole. We must find ways to sustain it. The first step toward helping the free press is acknowledging the content it produces is not without cost.


Tracy Cook is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism studying data journalism. She previously was a graduate research assistant in the data library at Investigative Reporters & Editors and has interned at The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her main areas of interest are media economics, data reporting and business journalism. Originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pa., she graduated from the University of Missouri in 2016 with bachelor degrees in journalism and economics.

If you’re interested in or have ideas about Tracy’s topic, you can email her at tracy.cook@pressinstitute.org. You can also follow her on Twitter at @tmcook23.

API’s Summer Fellowship offers college students and recent graduates to propose and execute a practical project to aid journalists and newsrooms. If you’re interested in API’s 2018 summer fellowship, you can apply here.