In research that the Media Insight Project produced in 2015, we innovated a concept that we think has become an important one in trying to understand the future of news. We asked people whether, on balance, they were more likely to actively seek out news or whether they were more likely to bump into it by accident.
In this survey we wanted to examine the relationship between passive and active news consumption and paying for news.
What we find is these two groups tend to follow news differently, and the distinctions between these groups are particularly stark among those who do not pay for news.
Indeed, there are key differences among nonpayers who seek out news and nonpayers who bump into news across a variety of factors—from the topics they follow, the reasons they do not pay for news, to the likelihood they will pay for news in the future.
Nonpayers are actually evenly split as 51 percent say they actively seek out news (seekers) while 48 percent say they tend to mostly bump into news (bumpers).
[pullquote align=right]There are key differences among nonpayers who seek out news and nonpayers who bump into news across a variety of factors—from the topics they follow, the reasons they do not pay for news, to the likelihood they will pay for news in the future.[/pullquote]
And in general, seekers who do not pay for news tend to follow news more like those who do pay. We think this suggests they are an important group for publishers to understand, identify, and then engage.
Slightly less than 4 in 10 nonpayers age 18-34 actively seek out news compared with about 6 in 10 nonpaying adults age 35 and older. Nonpaying college graduates are more likely to be seekers (66 percent) than those with some college (52 percent) or a high school degree (43 percent).
Among nonpayers, men are more likely than women to be seekers (56 percent vs. 47 percent).
Nonpaying seekers and bumpers also tend to follow different topics in the news. News seekers who don’t pay for news, indeed, tend to follow similar topics as those who do pay.
For instance, nonpaying seekers are more likely to follow national politics or government and foreign or international news. Nonpaying bumpers are more likely to follow news about their town, about their hobbies, and lifestyle topics.
Among nonpayers, seekers and bumpers are likely to report different reasons for why they choose not to pay. A majority of bumpers say they are not interested enough in the content. Bumpers are nearly twice as likely to say this as seekers (53 percent vs. 29 percent). On the other hand, seekers who choose not to pay are more likely than bumpers to say they can find plenty of free content and don’t need to pay (64 percent vs. 44 percent).
Seekers and bumpers who do not pay for news also use free sources in different ways and evaluate those sources differently. Seekers are more likely to say they started to use their favored free source because they were looking for a source that covers a topic well (33 percent vs. 20 percent). Bumpers are more likely to say they started using their source because they saw or heard about the source at work (27 percent vs. 19 percent). But for both groups social flow was a major factor in leading them to a particular news source. For both bumpers and seekers, the most common reason they started using their preferred free source is because their friends or family used it.
Across several metrics, nonpaying seekers tend to place more value than nonpaying bumpers on how the favorite free source helps them. Seekers are more likely than bumpers to say it is very important that their free source is good at covering a topic they care about, helps them care for themselves or family, helps them find places to go, and helps them talk to friends and family about what is going on in the news.
Nonpaying seekers also are more likely to have positive views of their favored news source than bumpers. For instance, they are more likely to say it is very easy to get news from their source (70 percent for nonpaying seekers vs. 56 percent for nonpaying bumpers); they are also more likely to say that the information from their source is very reliable (52 percent vs. 34 percent).
Among those who do not pay for news, seekers say they are also more willing to eventually pay for their favorite free source. Indeed, 21 percent of seekers say that it is at least moderately likely they would pay for news and information for their preferred source, compared with 11 percent of bumpers.
Interestingly, seekers who do not pay for news now are much more receptive to the hypothetical idea of paying for news if it were in a bundle of publications. Fully 42 percent of nonpaying seekers say they would be at least a little likely to subscribe to their free source if it also included access to paid content from other news sources, compared with 29 percent of those who bump into news.
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