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Subscription and e-commerce future for publishers

2021 will be a year of economic reshaping, with publishers leaning into subscription and e-commerce – two future-facing business models that have been supercharged by the pandemic, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism says in a forecast.

”While uncertainty has boosted audiences for journalism almost everywhere, those publishers that continue to depend on print revenues or digital advertising face a difficult year – with further consolidation, cost cutting, and closures”, Nick Newman, Senior Research Associated at the Institute, writes in the report.

”2021 will be a year of profound and rapid digital change following the shock delivered by COVID-19. Lockdowns and other restrictions have broken old habits and created new ones, but it is only this year that we’ll discover how fundamental those changes have been. While many of us crave a return to ‘normal’, the reality is likely to be different as we emerge warily into a world where the physical and virtual coexist in new ways.”

76% of 234 senior executives in 43 countries included in an Institute survey say COVID-19 has accelerated their plans for digital transition. Business plans include more remote working and a faster switch to reader-focused business models.

Driving digital subscriptions was rated an important or very important revenue focus for 76% of our sample, ahead of both display and native advertising. The reverse was true when we the question was asked in 2018.

E-commerce and events were the next most important priorities, with revenue diversification set to be a key theme.

73% say they are confident about their company’s prospects for the year ahead, though 53% say they are confident about the future of journalism.

”Concerns relate to the growth of misinformation and disinformation, attacks on journalists, and the financial sustainability of smaller and local publications.”

”Publishers seem to have a bit more confidence in government support than this time last year. More than a third (36%) felt that policy interventions might help – twice as many as 12 months ago. Almost half (47%) felt interventions would make no difference and a further 17% said they could make things worse.”

”With platforms set to pay significant sums of money to some publishers for news content this year, there is disagreement over how the spoils should be split. Around half (48%) of respondents think that just a small number of ‘quality’ news organisations should get the money, with a third (32%) preferring a system based on quantity of usage that might see most publishers paid.”

”Despite extra money for both content licensing and innovation, publishers think that tech and social media platforms could still do far more to support journalism.”

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