“Spotify for News”? User Perception of Subscription-Based Content Platforms for News Media
- RQ: How do news consumers perceive subscription-based cross-publisher platforms in digital journalism?
2. Related Literature
2.1. The Platformization of the Media Industry
2.2. Towards a Subscription Economy in Digital Journalism
2.3. User Perception of Journalism Platforms
- Quality (availability of content, completeness),
- Usability/design (simple operability during pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase, reduction of search costs),
- Exclusiveness (number of comparable offers, substitutability),
- Complexity (type and variety of presentation, information density, quantity),
- Trust (reduction of technological and organizational uncertainties, transparency of the offer)
- Brand (brand positioning and awareness).
3.1. Focus Group Participants
- People who pay for digital journalism in general (“Payers”),
- People who pay for regional and local digital journalism (“Regional payers”),
- “Non-payers” and
- Users who have recently cancelled a digital journalistic subscription (“Cancellers”).
3.2. Conducting the Focus Group Discussions
- Initial situation: Participants were asked to describe their current use of news and journalistic content. Which offers do they use (regularly)? For what and why do they (not) pay? What are the advantages and disadvantages of current digital news services? What are their wishes for news usage in the digital environment? The aim was to gain insights into the participants’ everyday usage and personal experiences. On this basis, they would enter into the discussion of platform models.
- Evaluation: The participants were given a short scenario text of a commercial, subscription-based platform for journalism, using Apple News+ and Readly as examples2. After the participants had read the text and any questions had been answered, a “concept test” (Kühn and Koschel 2018) was used to collect spontaneous reactions, enabling them to go into more detail about the advantages and problems of such a platform, about potential audiences and their respective benefits, about a possible substitution of other news products, and about their willingness to pay for such a platform. The discussion was only loosely structured, so that participants were able to move the discussion in different directions. Consequently, the discussion focuses differed between the groups, in some cases significantly, which generated diverse insights (Kühn and Koschel 2018; Krueger and Casey 2015).
- Optimization: Finally, suggestions were collected on how such a platform could be improved from the perspective of the participants, for example by adding further useful product features.
3.3. Data Analysis
4. Results and Discussion
4.1. Content, Quality and Exclusiveness
“First of all, you would have to know which magazines and which media you can really access,” stated a 51-year-old participant from Cologne.(w, 51 years old, regional payer)
“I would expect that not only the things that are already free [...] would be bundled in this app, but that the [paid] ‘+’-contributions would also be included, and that you could really access the entire newspaper...”.(m, 32 years old, non-payer, Cologne)
“This is somehow different for each customer and I thought to myself: quite a few different [content] areas would have to be covered”.(m, 35 years old, non-payer, Cologne)
“... then you go from one article to the next. And then suddenly you’re on a piece from Die Zeit3, and then... [w (51 years old, canceller, Cologne) interrupts: ‘Oh, I don’t believe this.’] ... If it is perhaps the same field of interest and the person was interested in the headline, then he thinks: ‘Ah, I find that exciting right now. The person doesn’t see that it’s from another newspaper–and maybe in this way you can awake a political interest”.(w, 20 years old, canceller, Cologne)
“Can all the information [on a platform] be assessed, processed and evaluated?”.(m, 45 years, canceller, Erfurt)
For this reason, the usability and platform design characteristics (which will be detailed in Section 4.2) are central to making meaningful use of the variety of available content.“... I know that from Netflix, that you might want to start a new movie or a new series because you’ve finished the last one, and then it takes me half an evening to find what I really like. And then it’s actually already too late to start the film, because the film lasts two hours”.(m, 20 years old, canceller, Cologne)
“If I read a really good article on a topic, then I have read a good article on it [...] Whether it makes sense for me to have eight or nine more articles available, which are 80 or 90 percent the same, I don’t know...“.(m, 32 years old, payer, Cologne)
“I could imagine it as an extension, but not as a replacement”.(w, 51 years old, regional payer, Cologne)
4.2. Usability, Design and Complexity
“I find it annoying to have different subscriptions. Here, you would have it nice and compact, all in one. And you don’t have to pay for them all individually.”.(m, 32 years old, payer, Erfurt)
“Once I’m inside [Netflix], the categories and the movies are listed and I have a trailer that I can watch, to decide if I want to watch the movie or not. For articles, it would be great if there were very short, crisp and well-written abstracts, where they simply explain what to expect in the article in six or seven sentences”.(m, 29 years old, payer regional, Erfurt)
“I need to be able to switch to some kind of general mode with a click, which will give me the same presentation as any other user. Otherwise, there is of course the danger that you are one-sidedly aligned to one track. This is very dangerous”.(m, 57 years old, regional payer, Erfurt)
“I also assume that there are serious journalists behind it and they already select for us anyway... In this respect, what is supposed to be most important should simply be on the start page. And not that, if I only watch tennis, there is only tennis news. As nice as tennis is, this wouldn’t be good”.(m, 32 years old, non-payer, Cologne)
“... who selects the [media]? Which ones get in, which ones don’t get in?”.(m, 57 years old, regional payer, Erfurt)
“Well, that it’s not like Spotify [...], that it’s not about which licenses they have and when. And although I bought this for 9.90 euros, they [at Spotify] no longer have the license for the music on my playlist...”.(m, 35 years old, payer, Erfurt)
“What I personally would like to see is a kind of TÜV (Technical Inspection Agency) for such an offer, so that there might be a control function, that there would be a regular check to see whether the quality journalism that’s in there really continues. Perhaps someone would take care to see how many revocations, how many counter-statements a publication had received and that, if that somehow becomes more frequent, one might say goodbye to this medium [on the platform].”.(w, 47, non-payer, Cologne)
“... I would not be interested in the newspapers themselves, but in the topics that interest me. I would have to make a pre-selection, for example: politics, science, computers and pharmaceuticals”.(m, 45 years old, canceller, Erfurt)
- m (21 years old):
- “... if I now choose a topic [on the platform] every day and I notice that it is the same magazine the article comes from every time, then I would like to know, so that I then also know that the magazine is good.”
- w (29):
- “But in the end, you don’t care where you read about football...”
- m (45):
- “...because you are looking primarily at the subject.”
- m (21):
- “I am interested in where this comes from.”
- w (29):
- “But is it important to you to have it from only one newspaper or from several sources?”
- m (21):
- “Nah, rather from several sources. But when I realize that it is the same source every time, I would be happy.”
- m (22):
- “...so that you know whether it is credible or just gossip.”
- w (29):
- “That’s right.”
4.5. Price and Terms of Contract
“... Good journalism costs a bit. If I pay a discount price, I can’t expect it to be quality publishers or journalists. It sounds a bit like BILD or Express5 to me.”.(m, 41 years old, canceller, Cologne)
“10 euros for the entire world of music [at Spotify], 10 euros for quite a lot of films [at Netflix] and 10 euros for a limited number of articles [at a journalism platform], that is somehow disproportionate”.(m, 27 years, regional payer, Cologne)
“The question is whether a flat rate is always the best. So I’m thinking, I also have a landline flat rate at home and maybe I make calls via landline for ten minutes a month. Basically, it’s total nonsense to have a flat rate, but you just have it, it’s convenient...”.(m, 53 years old, regional payer, Cologne)
“[In the past] I used to share the newspaper with my father. First, he read the paper, and then I got it. And so the whole family can read”.(w, 53 years old, non-payer, Erfurt)
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
The assignment for the groups was made by the answers to the following questions in the standardized questionnaire conducted in advance:
The following scenario was presented to each participant on a printed page: “Today, there are more and more ‘flat rate’ offers for online news. For a fixed monthly fee you can read all the articles from hundreds of newspapers and magazines using an app on your smartphone or tablet. This is a kind of ‘Netflix’ or ‘Spotify’ for journalism, consisting of very different magazines and newspapers. Apple has just introduced such a service in the USA, while “Readly” has been available in Germany for several years. Apple takes a monthly subscription price of 10 US dollars, while Readly charges 10 euros per month.” Participants were not further confronted with the example platform products (e.g., by means of screenshots, showing the websites/apps, etc.) to avoid participants from being overly guided by the current market situation, i.e., to reduce priming effects.
German weekly quality newspaper.
“TÜV” (German: Technischer Überwachungsverein, English: Technical Inspection Agency), as independent companies, test, inspect and certify technical systems, equipment and objects of all kinds in order to minimize hazards and prevent damage.
German yellow press newspapers.
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|#||User Segment||Location||Number of Participants||Date, Duration|
|1||Payers||Cologne||8 (f*: 4/m*: 4)||1 April 2019, 92 min|
|2||Payers regional||Cologne||8 (f: 4/m: 4)||2 April 2019, 84 min|
|3||Non-Payers||Cologne||8 (f: 4/m: 4)||1 April 2019, 77 min|
|4||Cancellers||Cologne||8 (f: 4/m: 4)||2 April 2019, 92 min|
|5||Payers||Erfurt||5 (f: 2/m: 3)||23 April 2019, 87 min|
|6||Payers regional||Erfurt||5 (f: 2/m: 3)||24 April 2019, 84 min|
|7||Non-Payers||Erfurt||8 (f: 2/m: 6)||23 April 2019, 76 min|
|8||Cancellers||Erfurt||5 (f: 2/m: 3)||24 April 2019, 82 min|
|Content, Quality and Exclusiveness|
|Usability, design and complexity|
|Price, terms and conditions|
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Buschow, C.; Wellbrock, C.-M. “Spotify for News”? User Perception of Subscription-Based Content Platforms for News Media. Journal. Media 2023, 4, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.3390/journalmedia4010001
Buschow C, Wellbrock C-M. “Spotify for News”? User Perception of Subscription-Based Content Platforms for News Media. Journalism and Media. 2023; 4(1):1-15. https://doi.org/10.3390/journalmedia4010001Chicago/Turabian Style
Buschow, Christopher, and Christian-Mathias Wellbrock. 2023. "“Spotify for News”? User Perception of Subscription-Based Content Platforms for News Media" Journalism and Media 4, no. 1: 1-15. https://doi.org/10.3390/journalmedia4010001