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“Unexpected winner in the race for new eyeballs”: Local news publishers see up to 150% spike in traffic

FIPP’s latest Global Digital Subscription Snapshot (2020 Q2) report presents an encouraging picture for publishers in a world shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amidst all the challenges this crisis has created for publishers, including declining ad revenues, campaign and event postponements and cancellations, traffic and subscriptions have shown remarkable growth.

Digital revenue playing an increasingly larger role

Major publishers like The New York Times and The Washington Post have seen more than 50% spikes in traffic over March. 

Source: Piano

The New York Times continues to grow its digital subscriber base. The company announced that its total digital subscribers have increased to 4.4M. Of these, nearly 3.4M are news subscribers and the rest subscribe to its verticals which include crosswords, cooking and parenting. Overall, the publisher saw a 26% growth in digital news subscription in 2019, compared to the previous year.

The Wall Street Journal’s digital subscriber base passed the 2M milestone. Its parent company Dow Jones now has more than 3.5M digital subscribers across its portfolio of products including news wire service Barron’s and Factiva amongst others. 62% of revenue across the Dow Jones Group is now derived from digital, according to sources from the company.

Digital revenue is also playing an increasingly larger role at The Guardian. It accounts for 56% of total revenues for the company. Print advertising has decreased to less than 8% of revenues. 

“Consumer shift for more locally focussed news media”

The global spread of COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing surge in content consumption has also highlighted the role of high-quality content in people’s lives, writes James Hewes, President and CEO of FIPP.

As people’s freedom of movement is severely restricted, they have flocked to high quality content providers as they seek out entertainment, escapism, inspiration and trustworthy news coverage. 

James Hewes, President and CEO of FIPP

The real winners though, are the local news publishers

Hewes refers to a New York Times report according to which local news publishers have seen record increases in traffic. Some have seen up to 150% bumps as people seek out authoritative news about the impact of the coronavirus in their local communities. 

Source: NYT

The San Francisco Chronicle has seen traffic rise 150%, the Seattle Times 120% and Boston Globe is up nearly 100% over previous month. 

The unexpected winner in the race for new eyeballs and attention seems to be local news media.

James Hewes, President and CEO of FIPP

“These figures suggest a welcome consumer shift for more locally focused news media, who have been struggling to grow their subscription bases as rapidly as market-leading national news outlets and specialist content publishers,” he adds.

The same is not true for partisan sites though. “The desire for the latest facts on the virus appears to be curbing interest in the more opinionated takes from partisan sites, which have defined the media landscape in recent years,” note NYT’s Ella Koeze and Nathaniel Popper. 

There is a rise in news consumption on radio as well with traditional radio stations witnessing a boost in figures. The streaming of BBC Radio properties has increased by 18%. London’s LBC has seen more than 43% surge in traffic.

Unprecedented opportunity for publishers

Hewes favors a long term strategy for the subscribers that have signed up during the pandemic keeping in mind that behaviour patterns are expected to shift again once the pandemic recedes. 

The current situation does provide an unprecedented opportunity for publishers and streaming services to connect with, engage and nurture new audiences.

James Hewes, President and CEO of FIPP

Matt Lindsay, CEO of Mather Economics, told Digiday that he expects publishers to see a lower take rate after the pandemic subsides. That’s because the current spike may have depleted the ranks of people that would have become subscribers over a longer period of time. 

He suggested that the same publishers may also have to quickly segment the subscribers that signed on during coronavirus, and try to cultivate their interest in other parts of their reporting.

“What retains people is habitual consumption. You need to introduce them to something they’re going to get used to doing every day,” said Lindsay.

The full report can be downloaded from FIPP:
Global Digital Subscription Snapshot 2020 Q2