graphic from paidContent that speaks volumes.
It’s a collation of various pieces of consumer research on paywalls, showing various responses to the question: ‘what % of consumers would pay for news content online?’. The answers range from 5% to 48%!
Looking at it closely, I’d suggest losing the studies that don’t narrowly define the content in question as news content, since clearly people are far more likely to pay for, say, video of an exclusive sports event.
I’d also lose the studies that confuse the issue by asking about various different mechanics of payment (i.e. ‘Would you pay with a subscription? What about micropayments?’ etc) and just focus on the core issue of pay vs free.
If you do that, you’re left with just 2 of the original 8 studies … 5% and 48%!
Of course, paywalls are something that’s been informally tossed about at my place of work, as it has no doubt done at every publisher in the UK (although our CEO has been very clear it’s not being seriously considered).
I had a conversation internally at one point about whether to survey our consumers on the subject of paywalls, and we almost immediately rejected the idea as a total waste of time, since the answers given wouldn’t in any way reflect what would happen in reality. I’m reminded of surveys asking drivers if they’d pay a toll on a road they use. Almost every driver says ‘no way, I’ll just drive another route’. Then they build the toll booths anyway and, amazingly enough, all those drivers just pay the tolls.
Nobody puts their hand up and asks for a shit sandwich! Paywalls can only be tested in-market. I believe Rupert Murdoch realises this, which is why he evidently made the call early without stopping to ask anyone’s opinion. I think that’s the right way to approach this – go with your gut (even if it’s wrong).