Canadians prefer news online, but only for free

A new study has found most Canadians think the internet is their best source for news, but they would not be willing to pay up if websites started charging them to read their stories online.

Internet provides most interesting news and info, survey finds

When asked whether TV, newspapers or the internet provided news and information that was most interesting to them, 52 per cent of respondents said the internet was the best source. ((Associated Press) )

A new study has found most Canadians think the internet is their best source for news, but they would not be willing to pay up if websites started charging them to read their stories online.

The University of British Columbia survey of nearly 1,700 Canadians reveals 81 per cent say they won't pay to read news on the internet, and 90 per cent would find free alternatives if their preferred news websites started charging for content.

The findings are contained in a study conducted by researchers with UBC's Graduate School of Journalism, in co-operation with online research company Vision Critical.

Lead author Donna Logan, president of the Canadian Media Research Consortium, said the results should give pause to news corporations in Canada or abroad that are considering erecting paywalls around their website content.

Release of the study comes less than one month into the Canadian trial run of the New York Times' campaign to charge for online content.

Logan said the research finds rejection of online news charges is equally pronounced among urban and rural residents and between age groups and education levels, suggesting if the New York Times paywall system succeeds, it would likely be an exception, rather than a successful business model.

Online news trumps TV, newspapers

Though they may be unwilling to pay for it, online news is considered a better news source than TV and newspapers by most plugged-in Canadians, the survey found.

About 38 per cent said they preferred getting their news and information from TV, 30 per cent turned to their computers and 23 per cent chose newspapers.

But when asked which medium provided news and information that was most interesting to them, 52 per cent said the internet was the best source.

"Taken together, these data show that a preference for online media is clearly developing among Canadians," the consortium's report stated.

"No matter if they choose to provide audio, visual or text-based news formats, news and information providers that fail to focus on providing content for computers, tablets, and smartphones will be left behind."

The younger demographic surveyed, respondents aged 18 to 34, were especially hooked on online content. About 77 per cent said the most interesting news came from the web and only seven per cent said their best reads were in print newspapers.

Mobile phones less important

The study also suggested that Canadians value their internet access over their TV, cellphone and newspaper subscriptions.

Forty-two per cent of respondents said the internet would be the last service they'd cut. Twenty-four per cent said they'd keep their cable TV and 17 per cent each would keep their cellphone service or newspaper subscription.

The online survey was conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion from Aug. 26-30 last year and included 1,682 adults.