Millennials: What are they Willing to Pay for?

By Noor Anwar


The obsession with Millennials results from the great implications their media consumption habits have on publishers and the future of journalism.  New research provides some optimistic insight on the hot topic.


Millennials.  The generation that roughly falls into the mid teens to early thirties age category.  They are America’s most racially diverse generation, and have surpassed their previous Baby Boomer generation in size.  They are also proving to have a very distinctive path into adulthood as well.  Millennials are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, more linked by social media, distrustful of people, burdened by debt – yet optimistic about the future.

The Millennials are ‘digital natives’: the only generation for which new technologies are not something they’ve had to adapt to.  Consequently, they are also the most devoted and enthusiastic users – with 81% of Millennials on Facebook.  They have taken the lead in seizing new digital platforms to construct personalized networks – making them a confident, liberal, self-expressive, and upbeat generation that is open to change.


Source: Odyssey
                                                 Source: Odyssey


Recent research has shown that millennials are not a ‘monolithic group’ when it comes to news consumption habits, but in fact fall into several distinct categories.  There are the younger Millennials aged 18-24 who can be placed in the ‘unattached’ and ‘explorers’ groups, and the older Millennials aged 25-34 who fall under the ‘distracted’ and ‘activists’ groups.  Understanding these distinct segments within the Millennial generation offers more clarity for publishers seeking to reach Millennials, showing how a single content or publishing category for all Millennials may be misguided and unsuccessful.


Despite having grown-up in the age of abundant, free online entertainment and news, the Millennial generation still consumes significant amounts of paid content.  Although selling news to young people remains a difficult task, new data gives reasons for optimism to shine.  The study was conducted earlier this year by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.


                                    Source: Nieman Lab


The study found that a large majority of Millennials regularly pay for subscriptions or other forms of paid content.  Most of this paid content is for entertainment: music, movies, television, video games. However, 53% report regularly using paid news content – in print, digital or combined forms.  40% of these Millennials personally paid for news products or services from their own pockets.  Millennials over the age of 21, who have most likely just graduated from college and are now independent, are twice more likely than those aged 18-21 to personally pay for news.  

More Millennials pay for print magazines (21%) and newspapers (15%), compared to digital magazines (11%) and newspaper media content online (10%).

The study found that the willingness in these young adults to pay for news is correlated with their broader beliefs about the value of news.  ‘News orientation’ is the biggest driver of a Millennial’s willingness to pay for news.  This means that those who are most likely to personally pay for the news are those Millennials who want to stay connected to the world and what’s going on, and are more engaged with news on social networks.  Therefore, news orientation is the biggest driver behind the willingness to pay for news, more so than age or socioeconomic status.

These basic findings challenge the notion that Millennials believe everything on the internet must be free.  So have we just solved the biggest problem facing the future of journalism?  

Not exactly.  The same data also gives reasons for significant obstacles that publishers still face in trying to reach the next generation of news consumers.  Firstly, even among those Millennials who stated that keeping up with the news is important to them – only half personally pay for news content.  Secondly, even among those Millennials who do pay for news, free services like Facebook and search engines are still their most common sources for obtaining news.  As we already know, news is a harder sell than other form of entertainment – whether digital or not – and the results of this study show that Millennials are more willing to pay for content, but not so much for news.

The study also conducted in-depth interviews with several small groups of the Millennials.  These discussions highlight two potential reasons why some Millennials may not pay for news: there is so much free news out there that it’s hard to see the value of paying, and also a belief that access to news should be free to facilitate being an informed citizen.  As one 19 year old who was interviewed said,

“I really wouldn’t pay for any type of news because as a citizen it’s my right to know the news.”


[Infographic] MILLENNIALS-Overtaking Generation X
                                  Source: SurveyCrest

As a ‘Millennial’, I agree with most of my fellow Millennials in stating that access to important information, such as the news, is a fundamental right and a necessity for the progression of a democratic society.  However, I can’t say that I will not pay for any type of news.  For example, media like The Economist or Foreign Policy provide us with factual, well-researched information that gives a wide, unique perspective on important global matters. It goes beyond just reporting the news, but actually analyzes it with the help of experts and professionals in the field.  I will definitely pay for such high quality journalism.

I probably would have been less willing to pay for it a few years ago, but as I have grown older (and hopefully I can say wiser), I have realized the importance of paying for good quality.  The results of the Media Insight Project reflect this as well: older Millennials are twice more likely to personally pay for news.  I would hope that future research on Millennials and their media consumption habits will investigate this difference further to find out why that is?  How can we help younger Millennials, among other news consumers in the world, make a distinction between paying for news (which I believe should remain free) and paying for good quality content.  This can have important implications for publishers who are trying to reach the new generation, and also for the future of journalism.


Noor Anwar is a Pakistani/American journalist currently completing a Master in Media and Politics at the University of Amsterdam.  You can find her @noora_chapatti or LinkedIn.


Source of feature image: Digital Media Academy