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Only 1 in 20 UK subscribers pay for local news, Reuters report finds

Nic NewmanThe challenge facing regional news publishers in monetising online content has been laid bare in an annual state-of-the-industry report by Reuters.

This year’s Digital News Report by the Reuters Institute found that just 5pc of news subscribers in the UK pay for local news, compared with 53pc in Norway and 43pc in Sweden.

The report also found that only 9pc of people in the UK who were surveyed paid for any online news at all, with the majority of this going towards national newspaper subscriptions.

Of those who subscribed to online news in the UK, only 8pc were under 30, with the report noting that persuading younger people to pay for news remains a “critical challenge” for the industry.

The report states: “Despite significant increases in the proportion paying for online news in a handful of richer countries such as Australia, Germany and Sweden, there are signs that overall growth may be levelling off.

“A large proportion of digital subscriptions go to a few national brands – reinforcing winner-takes-most dynamics.

“Just 5pc of subscribers pay for a local title in the UK and 3pc in Portugal, but the figure is much higher in Norway (53pc) and Sweden (43pc).

“Subscribers tend to be richer, older and better educated, and tend to pay for just one publication. Persuading younger people to pay remains a critical issue for industry.”

In an overview of the industry year, Senior Research Associate at the Reuters Institute Nic Newman said that local publishers “continue to struggle” to persuade customers to pay for online news.

Wrote Nic, pictured: “National newspapers have continued to diversify business models with a greater focus on online subscription, registration, and membership.

“Even so, only a minority of our survey respondents (9pc) currently pay for any online news, with a wide range of free content widely available.

“Meanwhile local and regional publishers continue to struggle to persuade customers to pay for online, but benefited from stronger than expected digital advertising revenues in 2021.

“Despite this, in a bid to reduce costs, some publishers have been shutting the majority of their physical offices and adopting new remote and hybrid working.

“Newsquest’s acquisition of Archant, one of the UK’s oldest regional publishers, in March 2022, has further consolidated ownership in the sector and increased fears of further job losses.”

Another key finding of the report was the growth of what it termed “news avoidance” – namely people turning away from the current “depressing” news agenda.

The survey found that 46pc of UK respondents say they avoid the news sometimes or often – almost twice the level seen in 2016.

It also found that younger audiences have a weaker connection with news brands, and are increasingly accessing the news via platforms such as TikTok.

The full report can be read here.