Digital subscriptions stalled by readers’ reluctance to ‘pay twice’, claims agency boss

Consumers are reluctant to buy digital subscriptions partly because they believe they are already providing news organisations with valuable personal data.

Fairfax subscription costs

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Paul Fishlock, founder of Behaviour Change Partners, an agency which studies consumer habits, said people may be shying away from paying for digital content in the belief they are being asked to pay twice – once with data and again with cash.

He added that media firms got it wrong years ago when they began giving away online content.


Fishlock: “When you train someone to expect things for free, and then say ‘we are now going to charge you’ it’s not going to be an easy task”

Discussing subscription strategies on a panel at the Mumbrella Publish Summit in Sydney yesterday, Fishlock said: “You don’t need to have read any behavioural economic books to know that when you train someone so well to expect things for free – so, well done on that – to then turn round and say ‘we are now going to charge you’, is not going to be an easy task.”

He said the “perceived difference” between free and five cents is far greater than the difference between five cents and 50 cents.

Responding to comments from Bauer Media group subscriptions marketing manager, Kit Wilson, that data is a form of payment, Fishlock added: “That’s a real barrier to me. There is a growing understanding that ‘I am giving you something of value and you want me to pay you as well?'”

But he said there was hope, referring to the emergence of bottled water as an example of changing consumer habits.

“It’s valuable to think completely out of your category,” Fishlock said. “We found ourselves talking about still bottled water in the agency. Tap water was, and is, free and yet 25 years ago something happened so that we are now quite willing to pay $2 to $5 for what is essentially exactly the same product.”


Clark: “The only reason there is free online journalism is because the print product is subsidising it”

Alex Clark, founder of journalism funding platform Press Patron said it was time for media firms to come clean about the struggles they are facing and to educate readers of the need to pay.

“There needs to be more honesty around the fact that digital advertising can’t cover the cost of online news organisations,” he said. “Mainstream news organisations still derive 80% of their revenue from the print product and the only reason there is free online journalism is because the print product is subsidising it.

“When print continues to go off a cliff you need to have that conversation that you can’t sustain newsrooms based on just digital advertising.”

Michael Laxton, director of customer marketing and growth at Fairfax, told delegates the business was now seeing the emergence of a digital-only customer.

“I think we have now seen the dawn of the digital-only customer who may have never picked up a print product,” he said. “There is still a huge amount of revenue coming through the print product but for us there is an increasing focus on the digital side.”


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