This study provides a snapshot of baseline pricing structures for digital news subscriptions at U. After we gathered this data, we surveyed circulation directors and audience development editors at the news organizations to find out how they determine their pricing models for digital content.
These results are useful both to news producers and news consumers as benchmarks for comparative analysis and future decision making. Producers can use this information to see where they fall among similar organizations and as a jumpstart for future market testing. Consumers can use this information to gauge pricing standards. While this study does not look at revenue maximization as a function of subscription prices and subscriber bases, it provides a comparative starting point for news organizations to conduct that analysis with their own audiences.
The rest of this report contains a full analysis of how digital subscription prices vary by market area, circulation and ownership. Most of the organizations studied charge for digital subscriptions. These subscriptions vary in what they offer, but most include access to unlimited digital content, mobile applications and the e-edition or print replica of the printed newspaper. Automatic subscription renewals were a common feature among the pricing models.
Market size and circulation were shown to have no significant effect on prices among the news organizations included in the study. Ownership, in some cases, did have an effect as some parent companies standardized prices across their news sites. The most highly rated factor organizations consider when setting pricing models for digital content was testing prices within their market, according to a survey of 15 publishers.
Collectively, they ranked ownership mandates the next most important and said competitor prices were not as important of a factor in setting prices.
The selected news organizations are based in 41 states and Washington, D. A full list of the newspapers is included in the methodology section of this report. The pie chart below shows the distribution of subscription models by billing frequency. Twenty-four charged weekly. Five required payment for a full year upfront.
To fairly compare prices across all these different models, we calculated a standardized weekly price for each news site. The standardized price excludes noted introductory offers, and it was calculated as follows:.
Several subscription pages listed added perks for paying subscribers. These benefits included but are not limited to: commenting access, fewer advertisements, improved browsing experiences, subscription sharing, monthly e-cookbooks, access to other statewide digital editions and rewards programs.
Some news organizations have partnered with other publications and media companies to offer bundled content under one subscription price, including partnering with one another to offer subscribers access to digital editions of other publications within the same state. Some other organizations offer digital subscriptions that include digital access to the Washington Post. We charted price by market area to see whether there was a relationship between market size population and digital news subscription prices.
The data are further broken down by ownership to determine whether parent company has any effect on subscription pricing structure. Of the organizations, five parent companies stood out as owning six or more news organizations.
The chart below shows a distribution of the standardized price ranges by ownership. Some owners McClatchy and Tronc set one price for every paper in the study. Others let the price vary by market.
To add more context to the data we gathered about these newspapers, we also conducted a survey of publishers and directors of circulation and audience development. This enabled us to ask questions about how subscription price structures are determined, including what factors news organizations weigh most heavily when setting prices. The survey was answered by representatives from 15 of the news organizations included in this study.
Their answers are intended to be anecdotal and are not necessarily representative of the organizations in the overall sample. As depicted below, market testing was rated the most important factor in determining digital-only subscription pricing structure with an average of 4. Corporate-set prices followed, with a weighted average of 3.
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