Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 32 Number 3 2015 pp. 105-128

It Is Not Just About Competition with “Free”: Differences Between Content Formats in Consumer Preferences and Willingness to Pay

Berger, Benedikt, Matt, Christian, Steininger, Dennis M, and Hess, Thomas


While consumption of content in offline formats continues to decline, many providers are still struggling to monetize their content online, because consumers’ willingness to pay (WTP) for content in online formats is low. The availability of free content on the Internet is often considered the primary reason for this issue. However, we hold that the lower WTP is also related to a lower appraisal of online formats per se. Using a conjoint analysis and the example of newspaper subscriptions, we explore differences in consumer preferences and WTP between offline and online formats. Our results show that after price, format is the second-most important attribute of a newspaper subscription. While consumers still prefer the printed newspaper to any online format, WTP differs across online formats and is strongly associated with device ownership. Our study provides a novel understanding of the previously neglected factor content format and its importance for content providers.

Key words and phrases: conjoint analysis, consumer preferences, content formats, digital device ownership, digital media, media industries, willingness to pay