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Content for free? - When online readers are willing to pay for journalism

With a systematic literature review, Christian-Mathias Wellbrock, Daniel O'Brien and Nicola Kleer identify driving factors that influence the willingness of media users to pay for digital journalism.

Prof. Dr. Christian-Mathias Wellbrock

For years now, the advertising-based revenue model for journalism has been strongly challenged by digitization. As a result, the providers of journalistic content have increasingly relied on paid-content strategies in recent years.

In many cases, however, the testing of suitable models by media companies resembles the (in German) proverbial poking in the fog. In a current literature review based on 37 scientific articles, Christian-Mathias Wellbrock, Daniel O'Brien and Nicola Kleer (Media and Technology Management Area of the WiSo Faculty) identify 17 variables that influence the willingness to pay (WTP) for digital journalism.

The articles evaluated by the three researchers covered a variety of variables and constructs that are believed to have an impact on the WTP. In the Literature Review, published in the academic journal "Digital Journalism", the WiSo researchers identify and structure the most relevant variables, give an overview of their effects and review the measurement approaches used in the current literature.

According to Professor Wellbrock the systematic analysis shows that there are indeed a number of decisive factors that influence the willingness of users to pay for online news. However, the effect of these factors is often small or the findings even contradictory.

Furthermore, the review revealed that only a limited number of factors and theoretical frameworks have been investigated in the literature so far. Personal and demographic user-related factors predominate. With regard to the methods, conjoint-studies, experimental designs and incentive-oriented settings were particularly underrepresented in the studies examined compared to direct surveys. Explicitly psychological needs and motives of potential customers, which are linked to the demand for digital journalism, are hardly considered in current research.

Result: In general, the study shows that there is a strong, but apparently slowly decreasing resistance to spending money on digital news products, at least in the industrialised countries. There is also strong evidence that the actual decline in news content consumption is due to an increase in alternatives rather than a decline in general interest or demand. Therefore, while discussions in the media industry often assume that the demand for journalism has declined, an understanding of consumer preferences and attitudes and their development could be crucial for the "survival" of journalism in the digital age.