A new study from CivicScience finds that news consumption is up. In a survey of almost 3,100 U.S. adults, more than half report following the news more frequently over the past 4 months. 

That’s not exactly surprising, given the global pandemic, mass demonstrations, and upcoming election. It’s easy to be a news junkie in 2020. 

Interestingly, the data indicate a majority of these news consumers are not paying for all of that extra content, or at least not through print or digital publication subscriptions. A total of 39% have access to or pay for subscription-based news content (print and/or digital publications), such as The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times

And, just under one-quarter (23%) of respondents actually pay for a print and/or digital news subscription (16% have access to subscriptions but don’t pay for them). Roughly the same percentage pay for a magazine subscription.

It’s safe to say that “all the news that’s fit to print” is not being read by all the people, lending the upper hand in information dissemination to newspapers and networks that provide free articles online, like CNN, Fox News, or the Washington Post, as well as social media (which is a whole other topic of discussion).

This divide could also be attributed to varying income levels. The survey shows that higher earners are more likely to either have access to or pay for a news subscription. Furthermore, the majority of respondents who expressed interest in subscriptions at all are only willing to pay up to $5 per month for a print or digital news subscription. 

Subscription Growth from Lockdowns

Luckily for all of the non-subscribers, many major paid news and magazine publications (such as The New York Times and The Atlantic) have granted free access to online COVID-19 coverage, despite reporting significant advertising losses. Interestingly, some of those publications have also reported an increase in subscriptions since the start of lockdowns. 

Weighing in, the survey finds the pandemic has fueled subscription growth: 10% of respondents purchased a new paid news subscription during lockdowns. While this number may seem relatively low, it does show growth considering that just under one-quarter of respondents overall pay for news subscriptions.

The State of Digital News Subscription

Are more people subscribing digitally? Paid digital subscriptions entail subscribing directly to newspapers and publications online, or to news ‘bundle’ services, like Google News, Apple News, or Kindle Newsstand, which also offer magazine titles.

The survey shows that digital news subscriptions and print news subscriptions are tied; 66% of paying news subscribers have a print subscription, and 65% have a digital subscription. 

Drilling down the data reveals that 34% of paying subscribers have a digital subscription exclusively (not print), while 35% have a print subscription exclusively (not digital). The remainder have both.

In other words, print is still a force to be reckoned with among people who pay for news subscriptions. Digital, although nearly just as popular, is not yet the primary way to receive paid news. 

The question is, will it be in the future? Probably — CivicScience tracking shows that print newspaper subscriptions have declined steadily over the past five years. Still, as far as age is concerned, things aren’t looking great overall for the future of news subscriptions. Adults under age 55 are significantly less likely than Baby Boomers to subscribe to paid news sources. Baby Boomers make up a disproportionate number of paying digital subscribers, accounting for 62% of those who pay for both a digital and print subscription. 

However, among paying subscribers, the survey shows that younger generations (especially Millennials) are more likely to pay for digital subscriptions alone – but not print – than are Baby Boomers. 

Ultimately, as news consumption stays high in our rapidly-changing world, it seems critical for subscription-based publications to find ways to attract and convert younger audiences to become digital subscribers.