Paying to Read News: An Atlantic Gchat Conversation

The vast majority of Americans say they would not pay to read their favorite newspaper online, according to a new poll. This sounds like bad news, but when you look at the numbers, you learn that it's actually just a bad poll. It really shows that 50 percent of Americans read newspapers, and about half that number would pay to read the news online. That's not bad news, at all.

I was discussing this poll with Atlantic Biz colleague Dan Indiviglio. Rather than write up an officious analysis, I figured it would be easier (and more entertaining!) to simply publish our Gchat conversation, lightly edited. Enjoy.

Thursday morning. 10:05AM. Gchat.

Dan Hey... later I want to do a post on this article ... because the poll is [redacted word!].

Derek Haha, I was just going to write about this. I mean, what strikes you first?

Dan That it's a [same redacted word] poll.

Derek Yup.
Dan If only 43% of those surveyed read the newspaper regularly, then that probably means that those 23% willing to pay could make up more than 50% of those who do read the paper. And that's all that matters. The poll should have asked regular newspaper readers if they're willing to pay. That's where newspapers would make their money -- not off people who rarely read it anyway. It's like asking vegetarians if they want to buy some meat.

Derek: That's such a good point. The methodology is horrible. It's like a political poll finds that only 40% of respondents are thinking about voting in 2010 -- and 75% of those support the incumbent senator. Headline: "MIDTERM MELTDOWN! Poll Finds Only 30% of Respondents Will Vote for Incumbent." It's a pointless finding.

Dan: Right.

Derek: I was going to focus more on the underlying principle, which is that young people don't want to pay for news because they've been taught they don't have to. But the existence of pay walls -- or rather, the comeback of paid news -- could change that calculus.

Dan Right, that's true too. I mean, people didn't used to pay for mp3s either. But iTunes does pretty well, I hear.

Derek. Precisely. Great, my post is written.