Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Newspaper subscribers vs. other types of subscribers

Within the universe of people who pay for news, the survey identifies those who subscribe to newspapers and those who do not.

In all, 54 percent of people who pay for news subscribe to a newspaper, and there are a number of differences between newspaper subscribers and subscribers of other news sources.1

Newspaper subscribers tend to place more importance than subscribers to other news sources on being informed; they also are more likely to value the benefits associated with print (if they are print-oriented) and digital (if they are digitally oriented).

Newspaper subscribers also tend to subscribe to more publications than other kinds of news subscribers. Indeed, just 15 percent of newspaper subscribers say they pay for only one type of source. Fifty-five percent of newspaper subscribers pay for anywhere from two to four kinds of publications (i.e., print newspaper, digital newspaper, print magazine, etc.). And 30 percent of newspaper subscribers say they pay for five or more kinds of publications.

By comparison, subscribers to non-newspaper sources tend to pay for fewer types of sources. The majority, 58 percent, pay for just that one magazine or digital source. Another 4 in 10 (39 percent) pay for two to four source types. Just 3 percent pay for five or more types of publications.

Among newspaper subscribers, 84 percent are paying for a print newspaper, 38 percent are paying for a bundled print and digital newspaper subscription, and 28 percent are paying for digital-only versions of a newspaper (the numbers total to more than 100 percent because of multiple subscriptions). A majority of newspaper subscribers also pay for a print magazine, which is the other most popular publication type.

Percent
Print version of a newspaper 84%
Print version of a magazine 57%
Both print and digital versions of a newspaper 38%
Digital-only version of a newspaper 28%
News apps for your smartphone or tablet 27%
Digital news site 22%
Print or digital newsletter 21%
Both print and digital versions of a magazine 20%
Public television (a local PBS television station, for example) 18%
Digital-only version of a magazine 16%
Other nonprofit journalism 13%
Public radio (a local NPR radio station, for example) 12%

Data Source: Questions: In the past year, please check whether you have donated money, someone else in your household has donated money, or you have not donated money to each of the following.
Next, we are interested in whether you paid to use any media in the last year. For each of the following types of media, please indicate whether you personally have a subscription or pay for it on a regular basis, or not.

Media Insight Project

Among those who pay for news, the only major demographic difference between newspaper subscribers and subscribers of other news sources is age. Seventy percent of adults age 65 and older who pay for news subscribe to a newspaper compared with 46 percent of those 18-34 years old, 46 percent of those 35-49 years old, and 52 percent of those 50-64 years old.

Newspaper subscribers also tend to be more avid news consumers than subscribers of other news sources. In particular, newspaper subscribers are more likely to actively seek out news, get news multiple times a day, and say it is very important to them to personally follow news.

Interestingly, newspaper subscribers use social media at identical rates to subscribers of other kinds of news. Sixty-nine percent of newspaper subscribers get news on social media, about the same as subscribers to other sources.

Newspaper subscribers Other news subscribers
Actively seek out news 79% 67%
Get news multiple times a day 82% 71%
Very or extremely important to them personally to follow news 67% 52%

Data Source: Questions: Choose the statement that best describes you, even if it is not exactly right. In general…I actively seek out news and information or I mostly bump into news and information as I do other things or hear about it from others.
How often do you watch, read, hear, or see news? Again, by news, we mean any kind of news, including sports, traffic, weather, stocks, politics, lifestyle, or any other kind of news, by any means.
How important is it to you personally to keep up with news and information?

Media Insight Project

The other biggest difference between newspaper subscribers and those of other kinds of publications is the topics people are interested in.

Both groups tend to follow national politics, traffic, weather, sports, and crime and public safety. Newspaper subscribers are more likely to also say they follow news about local politics (19 percent vs. 12 percent). Subscribers of other news sources are more likely to say they follow foreign or international news (13 percent vs. 9 percent).

Newspaper subscribers Other news subscribers
National politics or government 66% 58%
Traffic and weather 49% 56%
Sports 27% 24%
Crime and public safety 22% 24%
My town or neighborhood 17% 16%

Data Source: Question: Here are some common news and information topics. Which of these news topics do you follow most often or closely? Please select up to three of the following.

Media Insight Project

A majority of newspaper subscribers have paid for their paper for more than five years. At the same time, 1 in 10 newspaper subscribers started paying in the last three months.

Newspaper subscribers Other news subscribers
3 months or less 11% 23%
6 months 5% 5%
Last year 11% 16%
2 to 5 years 19% 24%
5+ years 53% 27%

Data Source: Question: How long have you been paying for [PAID SOURCE]?

Media Insight Project

People subscribe to newspapers for a variety of reasons, many of them similar to the reasons they cite for subscribing to other kinds of news. But there are some factors for newspapers that stand out. One of them is social connection. Nearly half of newspaper subscribers (46 percent) say they decided to pay in part because their friends or family used, compared with 34 percent of subscribers to other kinds of publications.

Other popular reasons among newspaper subscribers for starting to pay for the source are that they were looking for a news source that covers a topic well (42 percent) and there was a promotion or discount (37 percent), but all of these are similar to the reasons people subscribe to any news.

Going down the list, 2 in 10 newspaper subscribers say they were hitting a pay meter, and only about 1 in 10 say they saw the source on social media.

Newspaper subscribers Other news subscribers
My friends or family used it 46% 34%
I was looking for a news source that covers a particular topic/issue 42% 45%
There was a discount or promotion for it 37% 37%
My personal situation changed and I now have more time to use the paid content 25% 17%
My financial situation changed and I can now afford to pay for it 19% 20%
I was hitting the maximum amount of content I could see for free 19% 15%
I got it at work and then started paying for it myself 13% 10%
I noticed it on social media 12% 15%

Data Source: Question: What factors helped lead you to start paying for [PAID SOURCE]?

Media Insight Project

What about motivations for paying? Are newspaper subscribers different than subscribers in general?

The answer is they tend to be a little more civically minded in their answers than subscribers to other kinds of publications.

For instance, newspaper subscribers tend to place a lot of importance on their news source helping them be a better citizen than subscribers to other publications (55 percent vs. 37 percent) and less importance on a publication being entertaining (36 percent vs. 50 percent). Subscribers of all publications care about that outlet doing a good job of covering an issue that matters to them (about half across the board).

Newspaper subscribers Other news subscribers
Helps me stay informed and be a better citizen 55% 37%
Is very good at covering an issue or topic I care a lot about 48% 49%
Helps me talk to friends, family and colleagues about news 39% 23%
Is enjoyable or entertaining 36% 50%
Helps me decide where I stand on things 33% 26%
Helps me find places to go and things to do 26% 15%

Data Source: Question: People use news for many reasons. When it comes to the biggest reasons you use [PAID SOURCE], how important to you is it that it…?

Media Insight Project

And even though many newspaper subscribers say they tend to prefer print, it would be a mistake to think they only engage with the newspaper that way.

Indeed, newspaper subscribers tell us they engage with their sources in a variety of ways related to both print and digital.

As an example, newspaper subscribers are even more likely than subscribers of other publications to share content (56 percent vs. 39 percent). About a quarter of newspaper subscribers follow the paper on social media and use its app (same as subscribers to other publications).

Newspaper subscribers Other news subscribers
Share its content 56% 39%
Use the coupons 53% 16%
Visit its website 46% 46%
Save print copies for later 43% 38%
Follow on social media 25% 23%
Use its app 23% 28%
Subscribe to push, text, or email alerts 18% 18%
Subscribe to email newsletter 15% 18%

Data Source: Question: In which of the following ways do you interact with [PAID SOURCE]? Do you …?

Media Insight Project

When asked about the benefits they receive from their newspaper subscriptions, features related to print versions are the most popular. Nearly half say they like the coupons or discounts while about 1 in 3 say they get access to print in addition to digital content. Only 14 percent say they get an unlimited number of digital stories.

Newspaper subscribers are also more likely than subscribers of other sources to say they like the coupons or discounts and that they get access to print in addition to digital content.

Newspaper subscribers Other news subscribers
I like the coupons or discounts 46% 18%
I get access to print in addition to digital content 35% 19%
I get content that is only available to paying customers 35% 37%
I feel good about contributing to the news organization 31% 28%
It gives me access to events sponsored by the news organization 19% 15%
I get access to giveaways or other benefits only available to subscribers 15% 9%
I like getting an unlimited number of digital stories 14% 15%

Data Source: Question: What benefits do you get from paying for [PAID SOURCE]?

Media Insight Project

The majority of newspaper subscribers seem fine with the price they pay. Fifty-two percent of newspaper subscribers say the price of the paper is a very small cost while 38 percent say it is a moderate cost and 9 percent say it is a significant cost. Subscribers to other types of news are even more likely to say the cost is small. Sixty-six percent of subscribers to other sources say it is a small cost, 25 percent say a moderate cost, and 5 percent say a significant cost.

But there is some sign that people are worried about the flip side of the price of newspapers—the value they get for what they pay.

Indeed, 28 percent of newspaper subscribers say the paper is a very good value. Almost twice as many (52 percent) say it is a fair value. And 20 percent say it is overpriced. This suggests that newspapers may have gotten close to the point where they have raised prices about as far as they can. The majority think the price is now fair, and almost as many subscribers think it is too high than think it is too low.

By contrast, subscribers to other kinds of publications indicate there is still room. Here, a majority of subscribers to other news sources say it is a very good value (55 percent), 33 percent say it is a fair value, and only 9 percent say it is overpriced.

  1. Newspaper subscribers are defined here as those who personally pay for either a print version of a newspaper, a digital-only version of a newspaper, or both print and digital versions of a newspaper. Subscribers of other news sources do not pay for any type of newspaper subscription, but subscribe to a magazine, news site, news app, or newsletter, or donate to public television, public radio, or nonprofit journalism.

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