Analysis

How publishers are navigating the perilous path to diversification

Chris Sutcliffe looks at how and why publishers are working so hard to diversify their revenue streams, for Digital Content Next.

Many quality publishers are navigating the “valley of death” on their migration from an advertising-funded model to one more reliant on direct reader revenue. It’s not a journey that they’ll all survive. But publishers are being driven by the realization that solely ad-funded models won’t work in the age of platform intermediaries and tech giants, which control both content distribution and advertising revenue. However, for publications with a loyal, engaged audience, the journey is worth the risk.

Truth be told, it’s almost as unlikely that a solely subscription-based model will be able to support news publishers at the scale at which they currently exist. Just as the relative value of digital advertising is significantly less than print advertising, so too are most digital subscriptions worth much less per user than in print. The obvious solution, then, is to have a much more diversified revenue model, made up of a combination of advertising, ecommerce, events, and subscriptions.

The Diversification Dilemma

The dilemma for many publications – particularly digital pureplays – is that precious few people will pay to support them directly, kicking away one leg of that ideal diversified revenue model. Through a combination of low propensity to pay for digital news in most countries, generic content available elsewhere, and increased competition in the direct reader revenue space, there simply isn’t enough money going around for every publication to have that stable source of income.

Consequently, many publications are reappraising what their ad-funded, free-to-access properties are capable of when it comes to building additional revenue streams. Many have correctly realized that a free at point of access touchpoint with readers has advantages for launching new products (and reaching a wider consumer base) that aren’t replicable behind a paywall.

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