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Digital News Report 2020: 5 charts you may have missed

The annual Digital News Report is a must-read for publishers and media watchers. Featuring conclusions from a survey of 80,000 people in 40 markets, the study is a rich repository of insights and trends in online news consumption. 

Here at What’s New In Publishing, we’ve dived into the key takeaways, the resurgence of email newsletters, podcast listening, and other developments. 

In this article, we highlight five important data points that may have been overlooked in an initial read of this new 112-page study.

1: YouTube’s importance as a news source

Instagram as a platform for news consumption (11%), is almost the same as Twitter (12%) when averaging out media habits across 12 specific countries (including Japan, USA, USA, Germany, and Brazil), the study revealed. 

This finding, which we highlighted in our top-level summary of the report, is part of a wider shift to more visually orientated social media habits. 

As the Washington Post explained: “In the pre-pandemic study, it was clear that Instagram, the photo-sharing social media site owned by Facebook, is on the rise. Instagram is used for news twice as much as it was in 2018, and it has become such a popular news source that the study predicts it could overtake the real-time information-sharing site Twitter next year.”

This development is clearly one to watch, but it is easy to forget that one visual network –  YouTube – is already a very popular channel for news. 

In the USA, it’s second only to Facebook (35%), used by 24% of respondents, putting it some way ahead of Twitter (17%). 

Across a wider sample covering 12 countries – UK, USA, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Australia and Brazil – YouTube was used for news by 21% of the sample, nearly double the number using Twitter (12%) and Instagram (11%). 

Facebook (36%) continues to dominate, but YouTube’s reach – and potential as a platform for news – is perhaps neglected by publishers and researchers alike.

Top Social Media and Messaging Platforms for News and Non-News

2: The resilience of Yahoo! News

Back in 2017, I noted that Yahoo! News had a bigger reach, globally, than the likes of CNN, BBC, and The Huffington Post. Three years later, the durability of the portal is on-going. 

In the USA, the site has a greater weekly online reach (20%) than the New York Times and Fox News (18%), to sit top of the online rankings with CNN. 

As it has in many other nations, newspaper readership has almost halved in Japan since the survey started covering the country in 2013. Instead, “Japanese engage with online news primarily through aggregators like Yahoo! News,” the report authors remind us. 

Home to a population of 127 million people, in Japan, Yahoo! News (58%) comfortably outstrips its online competitors in terms of weekly online news habits. In fact, only one other source – the website of the public broadcaster NHK – reaches double figures (11%). 

The reach of Yahoo! News in other countries around the world can similarly be seen throughout the report. 

Other notable markets include the Philippines (3rd at 36% weekly reach), Singapore (4th at 29%), Taiwan (1st at 45%) and non-Asian nations such as Kenya (9th at 25%), Romania (joint 5th at 24%) and Brazil (5th at 29% weekly reach for online news).

Weekly reach for online news channels in Japan, 2020

3: Print’s decline in South America

The 2020 paper paints a picture of precipitous decline for print publishers based in – or looking to expand into – South America. 

In Argentina, print as a source of news has dropped from 45% in 2017 to 23% in 2020. 

Neighbouring Chile tells a similar story, with print dropping from 46% weekly usage to 24% in the same timeframe. Instagram (28%) is now a more popular source for news in the country.

Weekly usage of print has also dropped by nearly half in the past four years in Mexico too, down from 51% in 2017 to 26% this year. 

Brazil, the biggest market in the region, home to nearly 50% of the continent’s landmass – and population – has seen print usage fall even more steeply.

Changing media habits in Brazil, 2013-2020

4: The challenge of attracting non-subscribers

One of the most positive stories from the latest study came in the shape of “significant increases in payment for online news in a number of countries including the United States 20% (+4) and Norway 42% (+8), with smaller rises in a range of other markets.” 

Alongside this, “existing subscribers are relatively happy,” observed Senior Researcher, Richard Fletcher, with the report demonstrating that retention rates for online news “are comparable to those for subscriptions to video and audio streaming services like Netflix and Spotify.” 

Moreover, “around 80–90% of people paying with their own money think they are at least somewhat likely to still be paying for access this time next year,” wrote Nic Newman, Lead Author and Co-Editor of the report.

This is good news, but there were some more sobering conclusions when exploring how publishers can attract new subscribers. 

Of the seven potential subscription drivers put to respondents in USA, UK and Norway, the authors found “a high proportion (40% in the US and 50% in the UK) who say that nothing could persuade them to pay.”

Lower costs, family accounts/access, bundling with other services, and an ad-free experience (offered to some extent by programmes such as Slate Plus), were potential inducements. 

Given this, exploring transferable lessons from streaming services (many of which offer both family logins and are ad-free, or offer tiered pricing which impacts on the number of ads you see), as well as bundles offered by Amazon (with Prime and The Washington Post), are areas more publishers should be examining. 

Read more about the latest digital subscription trends and their strategic implications for publishers in this recent WNIP series (Part One, Part Two).

Reasons for not subscribing to digital news access (USA, UK and Norway)

5: The email newsletter conundrum

Newsletters have played a key part in the COVID-19 strategies of many publishers. 

According to members of WAN-IFRA’s Global Media Trends Panel, more than half of the editorial executives they surveyed had launched new products during the pandemic. Of these, “newsletters are the most common product,” they revealed, “with some 55% saying they have launched them, followed by infographics (49%), and videos and live blogs (30%).”

The Digital News Report 2020 highlights the value that email newsletters can play in building habit and loyalty, ideally serving as a gateway to subscription (or a tool for reinforcing it).

Across the survey’s sample, “only 16% across countries regularly use emails, Nic Newman notes. “…But these users tend to be much more interested in news and have more disposable household income. This makes them a very attractive set of consumers for publishers of all types.”

Arguably the main challenges for publishers are two-fold (three if you include open rates): growing the number of newsletter subscribers (especially among younger audiences) and using this platform as a means to maintain and grow subscriber levels. 

Of particular note is the finding that news consumers in markets such as the USA, UK, Belgium and Germany said they receive an average of 3-4 different email newsletters – from news providers – each week. 

Even though the report found that the number of subscriptions people are taking out is growing, it’s not at this level, suggesting that for a larger number of email subscribers this – and content not behind the paywall – will be their only interaction with a news brand. 

The challenge for publishers, therefore, will be to try and reduce this subscription gap, as well as to find ways to effectively monetise their email newsletters; without doing so in such an overt and obtrusive manner that it puts off their readers. 

Given the importance of email newsletters as a tool for building loyalty and brand recognition, as well as generating valuable data and consumer insights, it’s clear that there’s plenty of life (and scope for innovation) left in this old trusty format. Expect to see more publishers seeking to unlock the newsletter’s wide-ranging potential in the year to come.

You can read more of our recommendations for newsletter strategies here.

Number (median) of news related newsletters received a week.