Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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“Habits continue to become more distributed”: Gateways to news that matter most to publishers, from Reuters Institute

“In terms of access points for online news, habits continue to become more distributed,” notes the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020, “as more and more people embrace various digital platforms that were initially used most intensely by younger people.” 

The report, based on data collected by a survey of more than 80,000 people in 40 markets, found that 28% of readers prefer to start their news journeys with a website or app. This is followed by social media at 26%. Further, Gen Z (18-24 years) is more than twice as likely (38%) to prefer to access news via social media. 

“If younger groups cannot be persuaded to come to specific websites and apps, publishers may need to focus more on how to build audiences through third-party platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Snapchat,” the authors suggest. “This may become more attractive for publishers now that Facebook has started to offer direct payments for its dedicated news tab.”

Some publishers have also reported significant increases in referrals from mobile apps such as Apple News, Upday, and various Google products including Google News and Google Discover. Although Apple News is only available in a few countries, it is accessed by 29% of iPhone users in the US and 22% in the UK.

“Critical weapon in reducing churn”

However, the authors say, “aggregated environments have not yet proved a good environment to build the loyalty and attribution that will be needed for long-term relationships.”

Looking to the future, publishers are increasingly recognising that long-term survival is likely to involve stronger and deeper connection with audiences online.

Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020

To counter the growing power of platforms, publishers are doubling down on building direct connections with consumers via email, mobile alerts, and podcasts. 

“Emails have proved effective in attracting potential new subscribers, as well as encouraging existing users to come back more frequently,” the report states. 

Email can help build habit and loyalty, which is particularly important for new business models such as subscription and membership. 

Nic Newman Senior Research Associate, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Emails are generally more popular with the older age groups. In comparison, younger readers tend to favor mobile notifications to access news. 

The surveys found that one in five (21%) readers in the US access a news email weekly and for almost half of them it is their primary way of accessing news. 

Email is popular both with news lovers (having high interest and frequency of access), as well as with daily briefers who usually check news at a number of set times each day.

“These users tend to be much more interested in news and have more disposable household income,” says Newman. “This makes them a very attractive set of consumers for publishers of all types.”

“For subscription businesses email is often a critical weapon in reducing churn,” he adds.

Valuable for reaching out to the under-35s

Podcasts are another gateway to news that are becoming increasingly important in driving loyalty to specific news brands. There has been an overall rise in podcast listening to 31% across 20 countries tracked by the Reuters Institute since 2018. 

The Daily from the New York Times attracts 2M listeners a day. Apart from driving substantial advertising revenue, it also helps the publisher attract new subscribers and build habit with existing ones. Apart from the Times, The Guardian, Aftenposten (Norway), and Les Echos (France) have launched successful daily news podcasts in the last two years.  

Podcast listeners tend to be younger, according to the report. This makes them valuable for subscription businesses and broadcasters who are finding it harder to reach under-35s.

Podcasts on news and politics are the most widely consumed with about half of podcast users listening to a news podcast in the US. Additionally, news podcasts are most popular with the 25-34 age group.

They also create a deep connection. Listeners say the format provides them with a greater depth and understanding of complex issues (59%) and a wider range of perspectives (57%) than other types of media.

This opens up opportunities for paid podcasts, alongside advertising-driven models. 39% Australians say they would be prepared to pay for podcasts they like followed by 38% in the US, and 37% in Canada.

Reasons for subscribing: Distinctiveness and quality of the content

“The reasons for subscribing to an online publication are complex, according to the authors, “and partly affected by supply-side factors such as the amount of high-quality free news available.”

Many publishers have introduced paywalls in the US and Norway, “perhaps heightening a sense of scarcity and creating a feeling that news could be worth paying for.” In the UK, only a relatively small number of publications try to charge for news.

The authors comment, “We see subscribers weighing up personal benefits, such as distinctive content, convenience, and value, with perceived benefits for society – such as having a strong and independent media able to hold politicians to account.”

Distinctiveness and quality of the content are the most important factors that convince readers to pay for news. 

Many publishers have seen a record increase in subscriptions and traffic due to the pandemic. The authors acknowledge that but emphasize that the key trends covered in the report, including changes in how people access news, low trust, and rising concern about misinformation had been visible over the last few months. 

“Journalism matters and is in demand again. But one problem for publishers is that this extra interest is producing even less income,” the authors comment, “as advertisers brace for an inevitable recession and print revenue dips.”

They add, “Looking to the future, publishers are increasingly recognising that long-term survival is likely to involve stronger and deeper connection with audiences online.” 

Connection that is increasingly being cemented via mobile apps, emails and podcasts.  

The full report can be downloaded here
Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020