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208% growth in digital news subscribers over five years: Readers are “more willing to pay for content,” reports WAN-IFRA

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Here’s some good news for publishers focusing on generating direct reader revenue. WAN-IFRA’s recently published World Press Trends 2019 report notes steady growth in digital revenues globally. Digital news subscriber numbers worldwide have increased 208% over five years to 2018, and are expected to grow by a further 13% in 2019. 

Growth in digital revenue continues to counter some of the declines in print that have led to the contraction of total industry revenues during the past five years. This broad trend is forecast to continue into 2019. 

WAN-IFRA’s World Press Trends 2019

The report, which is in its 30th edition, analyzes data collected from WAN-IFRA’s annual survey of more than 50 countries. It also includes insights and data from WAN-IFRA’s global partners, including ZenithOptimedia, IPSOS, PwC, Chartbeat,, and IO Technologies.

“Vast potential to grow subscriber base”

While there are growing concerns about subscription fatigue, audience numbers continue to be encouraging. The authors reference Chartbeat data drawn from 248 countries which shows that the number of guest pageviews has increased 76% over the 11 months to February 2019. 

They suggest this is an indication that news consumers around the world are seeking out reliable sources amidst the growing tide of misinformation and disinformation. 

It also “shows the vast potential to grow subscriber base,” the report notes.

In the fog of questionable content today, consumers are increasingly seeking trusted, quality content. And this is not lost on publishers who are sharpening their focus on building engagement with their readers who are likewise more willing to pay for content, and more. 

Vincent Peyrègne, CEO of WAN-IFRA

“‘Mobile First’ has to be more than a mantra”

Majority of this traffic is coming from mobile. Chartbeat data shows that 56% of digital audiences access news sites from mobile devices, eclipsing traffic from Desktop PCs and Tablets. 

That mobile devices are central to the lives of audiences everywhere is a structural shift in the landscape. The extent to which news publishers meet audience expectations with competitive products is both a general industry challenge and specific organizational one. 

World Press Trends 2019

“‘Mobile First’ has to be more than a mantra, it needs to be the mission,” the authors suggest. They add that forwarding-thinking news organizations have adopted a mobile-first mindset in their current operations and future plans.

“Quality SEO strategies will yield results beyond the traditional search engine”

Further, Google continues to dominate the digital news ecosystem in most markets. It accounts for two out of every three page views from leading tech companies. Worldwide, Google provides 25x traffic for publishers compared to Twitter, and almost 2.5x that of Facebook. 

Google search (47.61%) remains the dominant source of traffic for news publishers, among all of Google’s news delivery vehicles. It’s followed by Google News (32.45%), according to data analytics firm 

Kelsey Arendt, Senior Data Analyst at, says, “While Google doesn’t make it easy to track specific products, they are intent on ‘reimagining search,’ which blurs the lines between immediate organic search results and results curated based on past searches. 

“If anything, I hope this means quality SEO strategies will yield results beyond the traditional search engine.”

“Relevant content is key to achieving loyalty”

Loyal users are the largest contributor to online traffic. Globally they account for more than two out of every five pageviews. “Relevant content is key to achieving loyalty from new users,” the authors suggest. 

Content that is relevant to readers isn’t just clicked but consumed – and rewarded with loyalty. And loyal users are the cornerstone of a successful reader revenue business. Publishers need to move from a mindset focused on producing news products to a mindset focussed on serving the needs of news users. 

World Press Trends 2019

The report references research by data analytics firm IO Technologies which monitored more than 60M first-time visitors to 998 news and media websites across 60 countries.

The study found: 

  • The number of pageviews produced during the first visit has the highest effect on return rates. 
  • Relevant content that leads users to read more than one page may lead to a 3x return rate increase. 
  • After seven pageviews during the first visit are achieved, the return rate stays approximately the same. 

The authors comment, “it is not only important that an individual article is attractive to the user, but its context is too. The sum of the whole offer must be more than its parts.”

The road ahead

The survey found that the majority of the respondents see the growth of digital audiences, specifically social media audiences, as the most important potential opportunity. The decade since the global recession combined with the disruption created by digital technologies has been tough on the publishing business. 

Revenue has also been affected due to the changes in the traditional advertising model. Now the lion’s share of ad revenues go to tech platforms like Google and Facebook. This has made publishers look for other sources of revenue.

On every continent and in every market context, innovating news publishers are finding ways to adapt and thrive in the face of changing consumer behaviour and competition that is driven, in large measure, by the rapid changes and challenges of digital technology. 

Dr. François Nel, Editor of World Press Trends 2019

But the “building blocks of successful news publishing endures across all contexts,” according to the report. In the words of Sonny Swe, the co-founder of The Myanmar Times, the formula for creating a sustainable business model for news is, “Build a great team + create great content = make money.”

Dr. Nel writes, “That other publishers worldwide have also mastered those fundamentals is underlined in this 30th edition of the World Press Trends that shows our $123B industry served a growing number of at least 640M paying news users – and many, many millions more through free products.

“Those audience numbers are expected to grow in the years ahead as forward-thinking publishers continue to innovate, deliver value to communities – and thrive.”

Click here to download the full report from WAN-IFRA: World Press Trends 2019