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Who uses and pays for news in the Millennial generation

Most Millennials use paid subscription or other content services, and about half use some kind of news-specific service

Contrary to the idea that Millennials think the web is free, the vast majority of Millennials used some kind of paid product or service in the past year, including a majority who use at least one for news.

To get at this, the study conducted in-depth interviews about what kinds of paid content people used, which informed the list of products and services asked about in the survey. The survey instrument then asked people about 14 different types of paid entertainment, news, or educational products and services. For each service, the survey distinguished whether the respondent pays for it themselves or if they use someone else’s.

Overall, 93 percent of Millennials say they regularly use some sort of paid content of any kind (whether they pay for it personally or use someone else’s), and 87 percent have personally paid for such a subscription or service.

The two most popular types of paid subscriptions or content regularly used by Millennials are those that access online movies and TV (77 percent) and cable television (69 percent). A majority of Millennials also use paid content for music (54 percent) and video games (51 percent).

The most popular paid news subscriptions or content regularly used by Millennials are print magazines (30 percent) and print newspapers (29 percent). Fewer than 1 in 5 Millennials regularly use paid access to a digital news app (19 percent), a digital newspaper (15 percent), a digital magazine (15 percent), or an email newsletter (15 percent).

In terms of educational or commercial services, fewer than 1 in 4 Millennials regularly use a fee-based e-learning service (25 percent), an eBook or audio book subscription (21 percent), or a sample-box service (9 percent).

Pay personally Someone else pays
Movies or TV downloads 55% 23%
Cable TV 41% 28%
Music 48% 6%
Video games 46% 5%
Other apps 38% 5%
Print magazine 21% 9%
Print newspaper 15% 13%
E-learning service or online course 18% 6%
Ebooks or audiobooks 18% 3%
Digital news apps 14% 5%
Digital magazine 11% 5%
Digital newspaper 10% 6%
Email newsletter 10% 5%
Sample box 7% 2%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.1

Media Insight Project

While it is true that many paid print subscriptions come as a bundled package of print and digital access, the data reveal that more Millennials are using the print versions. If we look more closely at those who use paid news, they fall into three categories: those who regularly use paid news only when it’s in print (38 percent), those who regularly use paid news both in print and digital form (41 percent), and those who regularly use paid news only when it’s digital (21 percent).

Percent
Use paid news
only in print
38%
Use both types
of paid news
41%
Use paid news
only in a digital format
21%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

When it comes to using paid print news, there are very few demographic differences among Millennials. The one notable exception is that Hispanics are less likely than whites to use print (33 percent vs. 47 percent). In comparison, about 39 percent of African Americans use print.

Millennials are more likely to personally pay for entertainment than news

Most of the entertainment services used by Millennials are paid for out of their own pockets—not by using someone else’s subscription or service. Indeed, fully 78 percent of Millennials personally pay for at least one of three different entertainment services (movies or TV, music, or video games).

That is nearly double the number of Millennials who pay out of their own pocket for news. Here, 40 percent of Millennials personally pay for at least one of six news-related subscriptions, products, or services (print magazine, digital magazine, print newspaper, digital newspaper, email newsletter, or digital news app). An additional 13 percent of Millennials use a news-related subscription, product, or service paid for by someone else.

Age is associated with using a news subscription or product paid for by someone else. Those age 18-21 are more likely to only use a subscription or product that someone else pays for (23 percent) than those 22-24 years old (12 percent), those 25-29 years old (10 percent), and those 30-34 years old (9 percent).

Most of the entertainment services used by Millennials are paid for out of their own pockets — not by using someone else’s subscription or service.

One reason for the difference between rates of paying personally for entertainment versus news content, however, may not be a lack of interest in news as much as a sense that the news is both already free and that, because of its civic nature, citizens shouldn’t have to pay for it. These are both concepts that we heard in our in-depth interviews with Millennials around the country.

During the interviews, Megan, a freshman at the University of Mary Washington, agreed with the general notion that it is not necessary to pay for news because it is so widely available for free online, but she says that she would be willing to pay for “something hands on” such as a print magazine with an annual subscription because “that’s probably worth it.”

Likewise, Connor, a sophomore at the University of Mary Washington, says, “I don’t think I would pay for it just because there’s so much availability of news on the internet for free that I feel like, if I have to pay for something somewhere, I’ll just look for it free somewhere else.”

While Millennials with more education and those with jobs are more likely to personally pay for at least one type of subscription or product, income itself is not a significant predictor of whether Millennials personally pay for news content or not. Likewise, income is not a significant factor in whether Millennials personally pay for entertainment content. However, men and those with jobs are more likely to pay for entertainment.

Among Millennials who personally pay for news, many pay for print

The study also challenges to some degree the notion that Millennials have no interest in paying for print media, though the numbers here are nuanced.

About 1 in 5 Millennials personally pay for a print magazine (21 percent) and 15 percent pay for a print newspaper, which makes such print subscriptions or products the two most popular forms of paid news.

At the same time, 14 percent of Millennials personally pay for a digital news app, 11 percent pay for a digital magazine, 10 percent pay for a digital newspaper, and 10 percent pay for an email newsletter.

In total, 29 percent of Millennials pay for any print subscription or product, and 25 percent pay for some type of digital news.

Percent
Print magazine 21%
Print newspaper 15%
Digital news app 14%
Digital magazine 11%
Digital newspaper 10%
Email newsletter 10%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

While Hispanic ethnicity was the only demographic factor that predicted the use of paid print content (whether paying for the content personally or using someone else’s subscription or product), age is a factor in predicting whether people personally pay for that print news content. Older Millennials are more likely to personally pay for print news than their younger peers. Among Millennials age 18-21, just 15 percent of those age 18-21 pay for print news, compared to 30 percent of those 22-24 years old, 33 percent of those 25-29 years old, and 35 percent of those 30-34 years old.

Older Millennials are more likely to personally pay for news

Does age also relate to more willingness to pay for news in general?

The answer is yes.

Older Millennials — that is those over age 21 — are about twice as likely as those age 18-21 to pay for news personally. Forty-four percent of those age 30-34 pay for news out of their own pocket, as do 46 percent of those 25-29 years old, and 45 percent of those 22-24 years old, compared to 23 percent of those 18-21 years old.

Age Percent
18-21 23%
22-24 45%
25-29 46%
30-34 44%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

Even taking into consideration use of subscriptions or products that other people pay for, the youngest Millennials are still significantly less likely than their older peers to use paid news. In this case, 46 percent of those age 18-21 use a news subscription or product, whereas more than half of older Millennials use a news subscription or product (57 percent of 22-24 year olds, 57 percent of 25-29 year olds, and 53 percent of 30-34 year olds).

Younger Millennials are also less likely to pay personally for certain types of news. In particular, younger Millennials are less likely than older ones to pay for print newspapers out of pocket (7 percent of 18-21 year olds, 15 percent of 22-24 year olds, 18 percent of 25-29 year olds, and 20 percent of 30-34 year olds) and print magazines (9 percent of 18-21 year olds, 22 percent of 22-24 year olds, 25 percent of 25-29 year olds, and 26 percent of 30-34 year olds).

Importantly, however, there are no age differences when it comes to paying personally for digital magazines, digital newspapers, news apps, and email newsletters. In other words, older Millennials are more likely to personally pay for print, but not digital, news.

Pay personally for print newspaper Pay personally for print magazine
18-21 7% 9%
22-24 15% 22%
25-29 18% 25%
30-34 20% 26%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

Millennials who believe it is important to keep up with the news are more likely to personally pay for news; however, even among these engaged consumers only half pay for their news

Besides age, what factors are associated with whether someone pays for news? There are various attitudinal factors that the study reveals may influence willingness to pay.

Believing news is important is a factor. Millennials who believe keeping up with the news is extremely or very important are significantly more likely to personally pay for news than those who do not (50 percent vs. 34 percent).

But it would be a mistake to think that simply persuading people that news is important will lead people to want to pay for it. And the more salient data point here may be that even half of those who believe following the news is extremely or very important still do not pay for any news themselves.

Among Millennials who say following the news is important, age plays a significant factor in whether they pay for news themselves. In particular, Millennials of college age (18-21 years old) who say following the news is important are less likely to pay for news themselves (31 percent) than those 22-34 years old who say following the news is important (55 percent).

Percent
Keeping up with news is extremely or very important 50%
Keeping up with news is somewhat important 35%
Keeping up with news is not very or not at all important 32%

Data Source: Question: How important is it to you personally to keep up with the news, if at all? Not at all important, not very important, somewhat important, very important, or extremely important.
Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

Just as we heard in interviews that the prevalence of news being free is one obstacle to people wanting to pay for it, another obstacle we heard is that the importance of the news itself is a reason not to pay for it.

In one case, Lauren, age 23 in Chicago, told us her feelings about the civic importance of keeping up with the news. “Another reason I watch and read the news is because I feel a social responsibility to do so…. I keep up with world news for similar reasons, more so leaning on that idea of civic responsibility to do so. I don’t want to live in a bubble where I only know what’s happening here in the United States.” However, when we asked later in the discussion whether she pays for any of that news content, she said she does not.

Even more to the point, we heard from Sam, age 19 in San Francisco, who said, “I really wouldn’t pay for any type of news because as a citizen it’s my right to know the news.”

Millennials who say keeping up with the news is important are more likely to personally pay for certain types of news products and services than others. In particular, they are more than twice as likely to pay for a news app (22 percent vs. 10 percent) and also significantly more likely to pay for any digital news subscriptions or services (34 percent vs. 20 percent).

Keeping up with news is not very or not at all important Keeping up with news is somewhat important Keeping up with news is extremely or very important
Digital news subscription 18% 21% 34%
Digital news app 5% 11% 22%

Data Source: Question: How important is it to you personally to keep up with the news, if at all? Not at all important, not very important, somewhat important, very important, or extremely important.
Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

While nearly half of Millennials personally pay for only entertainment content, a sizeable minority (nearly 4 in 10) personally pay for both entertainment and news

Another finding that may offer some hint for the future of the news industry is that there seems to be a connection between being willing to personally pay for subscriptions or content of any kind and paying for news.

Just under half of Millennials (42 percent), for instance, pay only for entertainment products and services and no news content. Virtually none pay just for news and not entertainment (just 4 percent). Yet nearly all of the Millennials who personally pay for news also pay for some entertainment online.

And in sharp contrast to the idea that Millennials won’t pay for online content at all, only 18 percent do not personally pay for entertainment or news subscriptions or content of any kind.

Percent
Entertainment only 42%
Both news and entertainment 36%
Neither 18%
News only 4%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

The 78 percent of Millennials who personally pay for an entertainment service are more likely to personally pay for news

Indeed, those who personally pay for entertainment are three times more likely to pay for news (46 percent) than those who do not pay for any entertainment content (18 percent).

Percent
Pay for entertainment subscription 46%
Do not pay for entertainment subscription 18%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

The connection between Millennials personally paying for entertainment and paying for news, moreover, holds across each type of news subscription, service, or product. Those who personally pay for entertainment products or services are more likely than those who do not to pay for a print magazine (25 percent vs. 8 percent), digital magazine (13 percent vs. 3 percent), digital newspaper (12 percent vs. 2 percent), print newspaper (17 percent vs. 8 percent), email newsletter (12 percent vs. 2 percent), and digital news app (17 percent vs. 4 percent).

Do not pay for entertainment content Pay for entertainment content
Print magazine 8% 25%
Print newspaper 8% 17%
Digital news app 4% 17%
Digital magazine 3% 13%
Digital newspaper 2% 12%
Email newsletter 2% 12%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

Millennials interviewed have mixed feelings toward advertising in entertainment and news sources

The challenge of subscriptions and paying for news is only intensified by the mixed feelings Millennials have about advertising. In our interviews in particular, we heard a range of opinions about whether people were willing to accept advertising in exchange for free content.

As Connor, a sophomore at the University of Mary Washington, says, “If I’m on YouTube or something and an ad pops up, I’m like well you know what? I’m okay with this. It is 15 seconds. If there’s something on a sidebar, I’ll just ignore it.”

But for others, advertisements are enough to drive them away. Marwa, age 25 in Chicago, reports, “You can tell if it’s a low-quality article if it has all these ads and then all this junk all around it.”

And for some, if the exchange is explicit — paying a price for a commercial-free environment or accepting advertising — the choice becomes easier. They would rather not pay a subscription or fee.

Haley, age 22 from San Francisco, said that she’d rather deal with commercials than pay the nominal fee for the commercial-free premium version of a music streaming service.

“It depends on how many ads pop up or how many commercials are played. If it’s taking so long for me to watch the news or to listen to the song, I might just say forget it or I might go ahead and pay to take them all down. But I think my first vibe is just to be like forget it. I don’t even want to see it anymore,” says Eric, age 22 in Chicago.

  1. The “pay for it yourself” and “both” answer categories were combined to form the pay personally category.

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