Newspaper publishers and online news consumers: Still miles apart on paid content.

How can the views and perspectives of newspaper publishers and readers be so out of kilter? It might have something to do with “wishful thinking” on the part of the publishers.

Case in point: American Press Institute has just released the results of a field research study that compares the opinions of readers and publishers on paying for news content.

Naturally, this issue is of paramount concern to newspapers that are trying to create a new business model that is profitable. In fact, nearly 60% of the publisher respondents in the survey reported that they’re considering requiring paid access for online news — news that is currently provided to readers free of charge. At the same time, these respondents seem to believe that consumers will willingly “pay to play” in a new paid-content environment.

But I wonder about that.

Here’s an example of the disconnect between newspaper publishers and news consumers found in the survey: More than two-thirds of the publishers believe it will be “not very easy” or “not easy at all” for consumers to find similar news content online from alternative free sources once the shift to paid content happens. Do consumers agree? Well … only ~43% think the same way.

And where do newspaper publishers think people will go for news if their paper’s free online information is no longer available to them? Again, we see a big disparity in the results. The top three sources publishers think consumers will turn to are:

 The publisher’s own print newspaper: 75%
 Other local media: 55%
 Television: 53%

For consumers, those alternate sources all rated lower – in two cases, dramatically so:

 The publisher’s own print newspaper: 30%
 Other local media: 17%
 Television: 45%

[For the record, the alternative free news source identified by the most consumers was “other local web sites,” cited by 68% of respondents.]

With such dramatically different views held by newspaper publishers and their consumers, it’s clear that both sides can’t be correct. I’ll to bet that the consumers’ responses are closer to the reality.

For this reason, it would be advisable for publishers to tread very carefully as they attempt a shift to a paid content business model. Does the term “evaporating audiences” mean anything to them?

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