Print and online ‘could work in tandem’

The exclusive paidContent:UK/Harris Interactive poll has this week shown how resistant most consumers are to charging for online newspapers.

But, for publishers, one possible hope that arises on our final day of results is to consider print and online in tandem. While only 5% of people who read a news site at least once a month told us they would pay for online access, when you throw in a free or discounted subscription to the printed paper, that rises to a combined 48%

While the proportion of respondents who said they would still not pay remains a majority, it’s a slight one – it seems the printed edition could leverage online subscriptions; not just among existing readers of the paper, but also among those who don’t already buy it.

The message is loud and clear – people continue to believe that touchable products command tangible economic value but, divorced from physicality and its associated costs, digital content should manifest itself cheaper.

We understand News International is planning to lock parts of the Sunday Times behind a pay wall, possibly to drive its print subscriptions. As my colleague Patrick Smith wrote last month: “Murdoch always stresses the centrality of print. I can’t help feeling he won’t be too displeased if a side-effect of pay walls is to push freeloading web readers towards the newsagents.”

Andrew Freeman, Harris’s senior technology, media and telecoms consultant, reckons the mixed model is “an interesting possible picture of the future”: “The value of this type of reader, engaged with the content, and (because of the subscription structure) much more likely to be brand 0oyal, would be massively higher to advertisers. If newspapers can deliver this sort of model – combining the best of both media within a paid-for relationship, then the future will be more certain, but certainly different.”

Methodology: Harris Interactive surveyed 1,188 adults (aged 16-64) online within the UK between August 26 and September 2, 2009. Figures for age, sex, education, region and internet usage were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. See raw data.