Survey: 52% of media professionals abandon websites when they hit a paywall

DigiCareers | eMarketer
A new survey found that more than half of media professionals polled immediately leave a website after encountering a paywall. One-quarter said they were unlikely to return to the site, and 63 percent said that they expect to see no ads after crossing over a paywall.

More than 200 people, whom DigiCareers describes as new media professionals, were surveyed between April 16 and April 23, 2012; the margin of error is 6.9 percent with a confidence level of 95 percent.

In a Pew survey done two years ago, 15 percent of respondents said they would continue to use their favorite news website if there was a pay wall, while 82 percent said they’d get news somewhere else.

Between December 28, 2009 and January 19, 2010, Pew asked, “Would you continue to use your favorite news site if there was a pay wall? The pie chart shows the results for 2,259 respondents; the margin of error of is +/-2 percentage points.

The DigiCareers survey found 87 percent of respondents used free news and newspaper websites rather than ones that require payment; this behavior is a bit more widespread than the sentiment expressed two years ago, before paywalls were introduced at many publications.

Taken together, though, the results align with news organizations’ goal to monetize their most loyal readers, which is typically about 15 percent of the audience.

As more news organizations introduce paywalls and fan Warren Buffett extends his newspaper ownership, a lot more readers and journalists are going to test this theory.

Related: Google Customer Survey questions are an offbeat alternative to a paywall | A year later, a look back at opining on the NYT paywall | Poynter asks loyal readers to donate using Press+

Julie Moos contributed to this report.

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  • Michael Chan

    The first chart is quite misleading and confusing. What does it mean to have 3% for ‘none of the above’ and 11% for ‘others’ when they’re supposed to have the same meaning?

  • John McClelland

    A big part of the paywall problem is the inordinate hassle of dealing with yet another account, and the publishers’ propensity for demanding high fees and/or a continuing commitment of credit-cash.

    Just as we willingly used to drop dimes into library copiers for single-article copies, or quarters into newspaper boxes for single copies, with _little_ prospect of subscribing, we might well spend digital dimes or even a dollar for convenient short-term access but refuse to subscribe or maintain yet another login and account.

    Angie is correct that knowing what to expect is important. This is true whether one wants one archived article (once $3+! at some sites), a shovelware digicopy of a day’s issue, an hour on a site, or something else.

    Until there is a convenient, reliable and reputable digital counterpart to digging into a pocket for some coins, I will be among those who instantly turn away from paywalls about 99.9 percent of the time.

    –JRM. (retired but active journalism faculty, Roosevelt University; editor of The Masthead for the Association of Opinion Journalists (ne National Conference of Editorial Writers),, where we have put the content up for free but will keep access to the comments and certain other assets behind a membership wall.)

  • Simon Simmons

    42% explore prices and consider a purchase looks to be a result. 

  • Angie Nikoleychuk

    My opinion here is similar to Ryan Sholin’s. I think a lot of people have a pre-conceived notion of a paywall. And considering how badly they’ve been done by a number of the big newspapers (and smaller ones), it’s no surprise that people are biased against them.

    Of the many newspapers who have turned to a paywall-based structure, some have done exceedingly well while others have failed miserably. I think a lot this stems from misunderstanding paywall conversions. Many see them as being based purely on the content, and this just isn’t true. Sure, creating unique, quality content is important, but this only takes care of the interest portion of the sales process. A lot has to happen first. Trust, for example.
    Think about it: You click a link expecting to see a really great piece of content and are suddenly told, “Oh sorry. We lied. You have to pay us first.” Because you likely aren’t familiar with the site, you have no idea if their definition of “quality” and “valuable” matches yours. 

    Then, there’s value. If the only option is a weekly, monthly, or annual subscription, you don’t know whether there will be more content that’s actually worth paying for. This is marketing 101. If I’ve never visited a site before, and the only option is to pay for a month’s worth of content, am I going to bother? Not likely. I’ll get the information some other way. But, the more I keep returning to a site, the more likely I am to give in and give up the cash.Another big error is targeting the wrong audience, expecting the wrong audience to pay, or failing to consider user intent. If I want to read an article purely for entertainment purposes, I’m not going to be as motivated to buy as I would be if I was using for research, for example.The failing of the newspaper industry has nothing to do with paywalls, in my opinion. It’s the fact that they’re putting a band aid on an unsustainable and poorly planned business model.

  • Bob Cohen

    Probably too many different types of Web sites for this stat to have a great deal of value, as it could include everything from high value database sites to local enews and blogs. Scarcity of content increases it’s value as does access to knowledge experts, which are usually paid services and probably make up the 48%.

  • Jimmy Orr

    Regardless of margin of error, this speaks to the absolute necessity of news organization to create unique content that readers will find invaluable.  If readers think it’s commodity, they won’t pay.  Creating valuable unique content is critical.  

  • Nadine Selden

    I wonder if the “200 participants” in the online survey were part of a probability sample.  If they weren’t, the statistical range of error is not relevant.  In any case, these respondents most likely skew to younger age groups.

  • Barry Hollander

    Well, given the huge margin of error (almost 7 percent), instead of one-quarter saying they would leave, the real number could be as low as only 15 percent say they’d leave when they hit a paywall.  Also, with this margin of error, the first two categories (leave vs explore prices) is a statistical tie.  And don’t forget that we’re not talking a random sample here, so there’s even more error built into the findings.

  • Ryan Sholin

    What definition of “paywall” did these studies use? I mean, if we’re going to make up words and ask people about them, we might as well define them, right?