Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

How Millennials Get News: Paying for content

This research was conducted by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Introduction

Despite growing up amid abundant free online entertainment and news, today’s young adults still use significant amounts of paid content. Selling news to young people remains difficult, but the data from a new study finds reasons for optimism and suggests new ways to think about the challenge.

The vast majority of the Millennial Generation, those Americans age 18 to 34, regularly use paid content for entertainment or news, whether they personally pay for the subscriptions and other forms of paid content themselves or someone else pays the bill, according to a new report on Millennials’ news habits1.

While use of paid entertainment content, including music, movies, television, and video games, is most common among Millennials, 53 percent report regularly using paid news content — in print, digital, or combined formats — in the last year.

Furthermore, 40 percent of Millennials personally paid for news products or services out of their own pockets. Millennials over age 21, those most likely to be on their own or out of school, are twice as likely as those age 18-21 to personally pay for news (more than 4 in 10 vs. 2 in 10).

A younger adult’s willingness to pay for news is correlated with his or her broader beliefs about the value of news. The people who want to stay connected with the world, who are interested in news, and who are more engaged with news on social networks are the most likely to be willing to personally pay for news. That “news orientation” is the biggest driver of a person’s willingness to pay for news, more so than a person’s age or socioeconomic status.

These basic findings — Millennials do regularly use and often personally pay for news content — challenge the notion that Millennials believe everything on the web must be free. But there are still significant obstacles, according to the data, that will make a paid or subscription model a challenge for publishers looking to reach the next generation of news consumers. For example, even among those Millennials who say keeping up with the news is very important to them, only half personally pay for news content. And, even among Millennials who do pay for news, free services like Facebook and search engines are their most common sources for obtaining news on many topics.

These are findings of a new study of Millennials by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The new report on paying for news is a deeper examination, with new analysis and data, of a larger study of Millennials released earlier this year.

The study included a nationally representative survey of adults age 18 to 34 and in-depth interviews with several small groups of Millennials. These small group discussions highlight two potential reasons why some Millennials may not pay for news: there is so much free news it’s hard to see the value of paying, and a belief that access to news should be free to facilitate being an informed citizen.

These basic findings — Millennials do regularly use and often personally pay for news content — challenge the notion that Millennials believe everything on the web must be free.

Among the study’s other findings:

  • In all, 87 percent of Millennials personally pay for some type of subscription or other paid service, including news or entertainment services.
  • The most popular content Millennials pay for personally is downloaded, rented, or streamed movies and television (55 percent) and music (48 percent).
  • More Millennials pay for print magazines (21 percent) and newspapers (15 percent) than digital magazines (11 percent) and newspaper media content online (10 percent).
  • Older Millennials are more likely than younger Millennials to pay out of their own pocket for news (roughly 45 percent over age 21 vs. 23 percent age 18-21).
  • There are no major socioeconomic differences between those who pay for news and those who do not pay for such services.
  • Ninety percent of those who pay for news also pay for entertainment.
  • Those who personally pay for news are more likely than those who do not pay to use news for personal or professional reasons such as helping them with their job (29 percent vs. 20 percent).
  • Yet only half of Millennials who say keeping up with the news is important personally pay for news products or services.
  • Millennials who pay for news are more likely to follow sports (56 percent vs. 44 percent) and current events such as national politics (51 percent vs. 38 percent) than those who do not pay for news.
  • Those who pay for news tend to also engage more with news on free platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Even among Millennials who pay for news, Facebook and search engines are their most common sources for obtaining news on many topics.

The first section of this report describes the Millennials who use and pay for news, and the second section describes how this paying population’s news habits differ from those of non-payers.

Study methods

The findings in this report are based on both in-depth interviews and a survey conducted by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The nationally representative survey of 1,045 adults between the ages of 18 and 34 was conducted between January 5 and February 2, 2015. The final response rate was 14 percent, and the overall margin of error was +/- 3.8 percentage points. In addition to the survey, the research included 10 semi-structured, in-person interviews with small groups of Millennials to understand their news habits.

  1. The terms subscriptions, services, and paid content are used in this report to refer to the items asked about on the survey including: “music you download or stream on iTunes, Spotify or other platforms,” “cable television,” “print magazines,” “digital subscriptions for magazines,” “print newspapers,” “digital subscriptions to newspapers,” “movies or television shows you download, rent or stream on iTunes, Netflix, or other services,” “video games or gaming apps,” “digital news apps,” “other apps,” “an email newsletter,” “a subscription service for ebooks or audiobooks such as Kindle unlimited or Audible,” “an e-learning service or online course,” or “a sample-box service such as Birchbox or Goodebox.”

Need to Know newsletter

The smart way to start your day

Each morning we scour the web for fresh useful insights in our Need to Know newsletter. Sign up below.

Featured topics

Go deeper on…

Dive deep on everything we produce about these key topics.

Strategy Studies

The best practices for innovation within news organizations

This Strategy Study presents examples and insights about journalism innovation, offering actionable advice and methods to move your journalism and business forward.