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50% of publishers to double down on subscriptions in 2020, reports Reuters Institute

Podcasts and AI to play a greater role in news organisations’ strategies, and three-quarters of publishers are confident about their company’s prospects in 2020

Leading publishers say they are confident about their business prospects this year, according to Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2020, an annual report published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The report is based on a survey of 230 CEOs, editors and digital leaders from 32 different countries. 

It looks at the year ahead in journalism, including priorities for generating revenues, storytelling initiatives and the health of the industry.

Key findings:

1. News publishers double down on subscriptions

Publishers continue to bet strongly on reader revenue, with half (50%) saying this will be their main income stream going forward. Around a third (35%) think that both advertising and reader revenue will be equally important, with just one in seven (14%) pinning their hopes on advertising alone.

Growth engines, reader revenue specifically, has very positive prospects.

Jon Slade, FT’s Chief Commercial Officer

This year will see southern European media houses leaning more heavily on subscription. In Spain, El Mundo has already started to charge for premium content, with El Pais set to follow early in 2020. Smaller publications are also finding success through a variety of subscription and membership models. 

We have solid base of subscribers and we know [this] makes our audience grow and keeps our churn low. We are convinced that the subscription model is future proof.

Jan-Willem Sanders, Publisher, Follow the Money, NL

The report suggests that collecting first-party data will become a key focus for publishers this year, following reduced cookie support from leading browsers and tightening privacy regulations in Europe and the United States. But the combination of paywalls and registration barriers risks putting further barriers in the way of casual news users.

2. Publishers are confident about their company’s prospects in 2020

Almost three-quarters of respondents (73%) say they feel confident or very confident about their company’s prospects in 2020. It reflects optimism amongst many publishers that reader revenue and diversification strategies are starting to pay off.

They are less confident about journalism in general (46%) and public interest journalism in particular. There is also disquiet about the decline of local news, and the growing pressures in many countries on journalists trying to hold the rich and powerful to account.

3. Podcasts remain a hot topic

It looks set to be another big year for podcasting with over half of publisher respondents saying they would be pushing various types of podcast initiatives this year. The Times of London is one of many that will launch a daily news podcast in 2020. Others are investing in chat/interview formats or documentaries with Le Monde, for example, recently releasing three new podcast series adapted from investigative articles. 

Podcasting revenue is projected to grow by around 30% a year to reach over $1bn by 2021 in the US. Elsewhere, revenues have been slower to build and, despite the clear audience opportunity, many publishers are still holding back. Others are looking at creating new services for voice devices or turning text articles into audio to capitalise on growing listening amongst the young.

4. Publishers step up the use of AI in their newsrooms

Publishers have plans to step up the use of artificial intelligence in driving more effective distribution of content. Over half of the respondents say creating better recommendations will be very important this year, followed by commercial uses such as using AI to target potential subscribers and optimise paywalls (47%), and driving greater efficiency in the newsroom through AI assisted subbing or tagging (39%). Only a minority of publishers felt that robo-journalism (12%) or newsgathering (16%) would be important areas to explore this year.

It is a gift, offering us economic benefit and efficiency. It doesn’t replace journalists. It allows journalists to return to their primary function of breaking stories, uncovering facts, and delivering the news.

National newspaper editor, Canada

“The overwhelming mood from this year’s survey is one of quiet determination not to be distracted by the latest innovations but to focus on delivering long-term value for audiences,” says the report’s author, Nic Newman. 

“There is no one path to success – and there will be many publishers that do not make it – but there is greater confidence now that good journalism can continue to flourish in a digital age.”

You can access the full report on the Reuters Institute website:
Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2020