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June 18, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:24am

Survey: Most Brits say prevalence of free news stops them taking out a subscription

By Charlotte Tobitt

Three-quarters of regular news readers do not currently pay to subscribe to any print or online newsbrand, and more than half say they have no plans to do so in future.

A new YouGov poll, shared exclusively with Press Gazette, found that of 775 adults who read a print newspaper at least once a month, 23% currently have at least one news subscription while 8% used to have one but stopped.

But although 14% said they would consider getting their first subscription in the future, 52% said they have never had one and were not considering it.

In a generational divide, 18 to 25-year-olds were the most likely to say they would consider getting their first subscription in the future (33%) while 55-year-olds and over were the most likely to say they would never get one (57%) and 45 to 54-year-olds were the least likely to have a subscription at the moment (14%).

All ages were united on their reason for snubbing subscriptions with 39% saying it was because free options are available.


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The 2020 Digital News Report, published this week, showed levels of trust in UK media of just 28%.

Despite this, only 9% of casual news readers told YouGov the reason they had not taken out any subscriptions was because they did not trust news services or because they thought the quality of their journalism was poor.

YouGov also asked 2,145 people their views on the use of paywalls for major news stories, referring specifically to a recent Sunday Times Insight article outlining why Britain’s response to the Covid-19 crisis meant we “sleepwalked into a disaster”.

A third saw the practice as “very unacceptable” – with half (51%) overall saying it was unacceptable – compared to 37% supporting it as a business model.

Guardian columnist Owen Jones posted much of the Sunday Times story on Twitter, enabling thousands of non-subscribers to read the piece.

The screenshots were later removed after the Sunday Times contacted the platform.

Almost a third (28%) of people told YouGov this was more acceptable than “other forms of media piracy” such as downloading music, films or books without paying for them. Some 41% said it was comparable, while 15% said it was less acceptable.

Online publication host Press Reader said last month it had seen a “significant increase in our content being pirated and distributed by various social and other platforms” since the Covid-19 crisis began as it urged Apple to help publishers combat “screenshot” piracy of paid-for content.

A third (32%) of YouGov’s 2,145 respondents said they read the news on a newspaper’s website every day, compared to just 9% who read a print paper every day.

The survey was carried out on 29 and 30 April 2020.

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