Going into month eight of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re just beginning to understand the long-term impacts that the global event has had on news publishers and how they’re charting a sustainable path forward.
A new report at What’s New In Publishing, “The Publisher’s Guide to Navigating Covid-19,” looks at eight trends that have emerged globally, as well as strategies that publishers have implemented as a result of increased web traffic.
The report’s author, journalism professor Damian Radcliffe at the University of Oregon, notes that it’s difficult to make broad conclusions about Covid-19’s impact. The pandemic has forced some publications to lay off or furlough staff or shut down completely. Others publications, though, have been able to capitalize on increased reader attention and boost subscriptions.
Radcliffe looks at what we know now about the media industry so far, though even more could change in the United States as we inch closer to Election Day and watch President Donald Trump’s recovery from coronavirus. Here are some findings:
Smaller marketing budgets worldwide means advertising-dependent publications will have to pivot if they haven’t already. According to PwC’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook report for 2020–2024, “global newspaper advertising (print and online) will fall from $49.2 billion in 2019 to $36 billion in 2024, a decline of more than a quarter (27%) over five years…[Alongside this] global circulation and subscriber revenue is expected to fall from $58.7 billion in 2019 to $50.4 billion in 2024,” Press Gazette reported in September.
People are spending a lot more time on their devices, but media consumption has fallen off after an initial surge. Smartphone usage is up 70%, laptop usage 47%, and tablet usage 23%, according to data from the Global Web Index’s Coronavirus Multi-Market study. For DataRePortal, Simon Kemp wrote, “many people say that they expect their new habits to continue after the Covid-19 outbreak passes too. One in five internet users say they expect to continue watching more content on streaming services, and one in seven (15%) say they expect to continue spending more time using social media.” All media, however, from internet surfing to TV watching, has declined since the initial surge in April. That means that news publishers have to get creative about gauging audience interest, and keeping it.
With more new readers, publishers are experimenting more with news products. At the beginning of March, we noticed that publishers were quick to launch coronavirus pop-up newsletters and drop their paywalls on pandemic stories. According to members of WAN-IFRA’s Global Media Trends Panel, more than half of the editorial executives they surveyed had launched new products as a result of the pandemic, Radcliffe writes. “Newsletters are the most common product, with some 55% saying they have launched them, followed by infographics (49%), and videos and live blogs (30%).”
Covid-19 has helped boost subscription numbers for a range of publishers. With advertising revenue down, publishers have leaned into reader revenue and membership programs to fill the gap. More and more publishers are explaining to readers why their journalism should be paid for and they’re doing so on various platforms, including YouTube and Facebook. Some success stories Radcliffe notes are:
- The New York Times now has more than 6.5 million subscribers (print and digital), adding 669,000 digital subscribers in the second quarter of 2020. In March, nytimes.com had 240 million unique visitors and 2.5 billion pageviews, up from 101 million uniques in January.
- CNBC’s website hit 1 billion page views for the first time in March 2020, more than doubling traffic from February. Subscriptions to CNBC Pro, a premium product costing $29.99 a month or $299.99 a year, were up 189% since January 2020.
- Tribune Publishing experienced a 293% increase in new digital subscriptions between March and February 2020. This included an increased conversion rate, from users hitting the paywall, of 109%.
Radcliffe also looks at audience engagement strategies, building loyalty among readers, and the ways that publishers have tried to be more accommodating to advertising. Read the full report here.