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Paths to Subscription: Why Recent Subscribers Chose to Pay for News

This study from The Media Insight Project, a collaboration between the American Press Institute and The AP-NORC Center, surveyed recent newspaper subscribers to explore the paths consumers take to subscribing.

​Funding for the news industry is going through significant change, and evidence suggests less of the revenue in the future will come from advertising and more will come from consumers paying for news. This will require publishers to think differently about how they engage with customers.

To help understand this new landscape, the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, has conducted a survey of people who recently subscribed to newspapers. The survey of more than 4,100 recent newspaper subscribers captures their motives and mindsets at the time of the decision to pay. The large sample helps highlight differences among large papers and small, reader preferences for digital consumption versus print, Democrats versus Republicans, and a host of other factors.

In this report, we identify nine distinct “paths to subscriptions”—the motives and conditions that together lead a person to subscribe. Some people are looking for coverage of a particular passion topic. Others have subscribed because of a change in their lifestyle. Some want coupons to save them money. Some discovered the paper through social media. Others want to support journalism as an institution. All are subscribers.

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The findings reveal opportunities for publishers and also challenges: To understand the paths to subscription and help each reader along his or her journey, to deliver the types of value and engagement that each group desires, to tailor marketing tactics to each group, and to use this framework as a foundation for their own audience research.

The online survey was conducted November 9 through December 13, 2017 with 4,113 recent subscribers to 90 different newspapers across the country.