News outlets face losing control to Apple, Facebook and Google
Traditional news outlets face an increasingly uphill struggle to make money as readers move to mobile devices, giving Facebook, Google and Apple increasing control, according to a new international survey.
The use of mobile devices to access news on a weekly basis surged in the last year from 37% of respondents to almost half (46%), according to a 12-country report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ).
As smartphones and tablets become the devices of choice for accessing content, traditional news brands are being dis-intermediated by the Silicon Valley giants.
The US firms are in a battle to be the top platform for news, with Facebook recently unveiling its Instant Articles service, and Apple announcing a revamp of Newsstand as Apple News.
The report shows a 42% increase year-on-year in referrals from Facebook to the top 20 global news organisations, showing the increasing importance of social media in driving traffic and revenue.
The proportion of all respondents that say they read or shared news on Facebook in the last week grew from 35% to 41% year-on-year. In the UK, this rose from 22% to 29% year-on-year.
Debate has raged across the media industry as to whether partnering with new services from the likes of Facebook will be an invaluable traffic and revenue driver – or whether publishers will eventually find themselves increasingly beholden to third parties such as Google, Apple and Facebook.
“Fragmentation of news provision, which weakens the bargaining power of journalism organisations, has coincided with a concentration of power in platforms,” said Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center at Columbia university, in a lead commentary for the report.
The report also found that although 70% of smartphone users have downloaded a news app, only a third actually use them on a weekly basis.
“The reality is that only the most loyal users are downloading and using apps,” said Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of research at the RISJ. “For others, social media, messaging apps, email and mobile notifications are becoming an increasingly important route to news”.
Kleis Nielsen says the relative difficulty in monetising content on mobile devices compared to traditional desktop websites, and the rise of ad-blocking technology, means that news brands will find it increasingly hard to make money.
Almost half (47%) of the US sample, and 39% of those surveyed in the UK, said that they regularly use ad-blocking software to screen out pop-up ads and banners.
The report also found that the paid-access model is facing issues, with only a small year-on-year increase in the number of people willing to pay.
“A small number of loyal readers have been persuaded to pay for brands they like but it is proving hard to convert casual readers when there is so much free news available from both commercial media companies and public service media,” the report says.
Of those surveyed, only 6% of UK respondents said they paid for some sort of news, from subscription to one-off payments for an article or an app, the lowest proportion of the 12 countries in the report.
Of the UK respondents who do not currently pay for digital news, 75% said they never would, and the average acceptable price point cited by the remainder was just £4.50 per year.
The report also found significant differences in people’s trust in news, with 68% agreeing they trust the media in Finland, dropping to 51% in the UK and just 32% in the US.