In the past year, we've seen a palpable shift from newspaper and magazine publishers with regard to paid content–they still don't know how to make paid content work, but they know they want to try. A recent report from the American Press Institute underscores this trend: The API reports that 60% of newspaper executives say they're considering paid content options, even though currently 90% don't charge for any content online.

Consumers, though, have different ideas. In a new Forrester report, we find that most consumers (80%) say they wouldn't bother to access newspaper and magazine content online if it were no longer free (no surprise), and the rest are split about how they'd like to pay for content:

Consumers Prefer Subscriptions To Micropayments
It's especially notable that, while publishers talk about micropayments so much you could design a drinking game around the word, only 3% of consumers say they'd prefer this method of payment for newspaper and magazine content.

This data suggests two things:

  1. Publishers should continue to offer free, ad-supported products to the 80% of consumers who won't pay for content online; and
  2. Publishers should offer consumers a choice of multichannel subscriptions, single-channel subscriptions, and micropayments for premium product access.

But one size won't fit all — consumers want choice. The need for a multichannel product and pricing strategy is further reinforced by the "what if" scenario of print being discontinued. When we asked consumers, "If the publications you read were no longer available in print, how would you prefer to access that content?" we found that no single channel dominated responses. Thirty-seven percent of US consumers say they'd prefer to access content on a Web site, and smaller percentages say they'd prefer access via portable devices like mobile phones (14%), laptops and netbooks (11%), or eReaders like the Amazon Kindle (3%). Notably, 10% say they'd prefer the anachronistic solution of PDF by email.

Again, this points to the need for publishers to provide consumers with choice: There's no one delivery platform, and no one pricing model, that will satisfy all consumers. Consumer willingness to pay is so modest — and, in general, we find it tends to over-report in surveys — that publishers need to be extremely flexible to accommodate the needs of these precious customers.