Digital Publishing Reader Revenue
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There are plenty of reasons for publishers to be grateful

It’s Thanksgiving week and it’s time to consider what we are thankful for. There are many things I can think of personally and in business … but COVID-19 has also tainted much this year. Still, I believe there is potential in everything if we train our minds to think beyond the crisis and look at the opportunity.

Sadie Hale writing in FIPP is of the same mindset, as she recently wrote about innovations in our industry and others that may never have happened (or would have happened much slower) without them being forced on us. 

“With every crisis comes opportunity, and that has certainly been the case for many publishers in 2020,” Hale writes. “As a member organization, at FIPP we’ve heard from dozens of media companies large and small about how the pandemic has impacted them — for the worse, but also for the better.”

Among the positives is a strong affirmation that diversifying revenue streams — a path many publishers have been on since the digital disruption — is absolutely the right approach.

“Typically, the main [revenue streams] would be selling copies, subscriptions, and/or advertising,” explained James Hews, FIPP CEO and President. “New areas of business might include e-commerce, live events, and digital media.”

As Hale explains, “The pandemic has shown that they were right to do that. Two or three important revenue streams have been severely affected by the virus, so alternatives are vital.”

The second thing the pandemic taught us is over-reliance on ad revenue is as perilous as we thought it was. 

“During the height of the crisis in March, April, and May advertising virtually disappeared. If you think about something like travel, advertising for summer holidays which would usually take place, all that vanished,” Hewes explained.

The plus side? Subscription sales have been up, and overall the magazine industry hasn’t been hit as badly as it might have been. For good reason, too: Not only have publishers been moving toward a less ad-heavy revenue stream; they’ve gotten better at listening to their audiences. And with that comes a position of strength in times of trouble. The pivot to reader revenue as a viable part of the stream is a welcome change, as publishers figure out how to remain essential to their key audience and ad partners. 

With the pandemic, social unrest and divisive politics all causing massive concern and worry, the superpower of the magazine format came into its own. 

As Hale explains, “Studies are showing time and again that in an era of fake news and unregulated social media, print is one of the most trusted —if not the most trusted — medium in the market.” 

And in a twist that nobody saw coming, the cost of publishing a magazine may be more flexible than we may have thought. 

“So if it turns out you don’t need an office, there isn’t a CFO in the world that wouldn’t cut that cost,” Hewes said, referencing the pivot to working from home. “Here in the UK, there’s early evidence that this is a long-term trend. We’re going to see a lot more balance in people’s lives, less time commuting, less density of people moving together on public transport.”

In short, the pandemic was a wild card … yet it pointed out some new truths about our industry, and hastened the changes that were already in the works.

I’ll take that silver lining and be grateful for it. 

David Pilcher
VP of Sales & Marketing, Freeport Press

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