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“The appetite for news seems greater than ever”: As traffic surges, publishers see a spike in subscriptions

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“Despite the coronavirus containment efforts that have emptied newsrooms,” The New York Times reports, “the appetite for news seems greater than ever.”

Readers are flocking to news outlets, web traffic is surging, and “the number of minutes spent by readers at news sites increased 46% from the same period ending a few days ago last year, and overall visits rose 57%.”

“The highest week of news visits this year, by far”

The above figures come from a study of more than a dozen general news websites by comScore. 

The company reported last week, after looking at an aggregate of approximately 40 select news sites, that the previous week was “the highest week of news visits this year, by far – more than 100 million more news visits than next highest week (which was the previous week).”

Outlets showing big gains, according to the NYT report, include The Atlantic, Business Insider, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and Wired, all of which doubled or nearly doubled the number of visits.

And it’s not just large news outlets that are seeing a surge in traffic, people are increasingly turning to local news outlets.

“In a time of crisis, people turn to local news”

We see that there was a clear increase in the aggregate of local news ratings by 45%, and the share for the local newscasts grew by almost 10%.


Among the key findings from Comscore’s initial research:

  • In a time of crisis, people turn to local news: The top 25 markets registered an 11% increase in viewing.
  • Pervasive public demand for news: Across 40 select news sites, the week of March 9-15 was the highest week of news visits this year.

“We now have data on what everyone was already probably thinking but didn’t want to say in the middle of a pandemic,” notes Nieman Lab’s Hanaa’ Tameez. “Coronavirus has been great for traffic.

While it’s natural that content consumption, especially news, will increase as people are increasingly locked down across the globe, the rise in traffic is also contributing to a rise in subscriptions.

“Publishers are seeing a spike in subscriptions”

“Publishers are seeing a spike in subscriptions over the last four weeks in the U.S. and Europe,” reports Digiday’s Lucinda Southern. “U.S. digital subscriptions rose 63% in the past week compared with the same period the year before.”

The subscriptions bump is more pronounced in Europe, where subscriptions rose by 267% in the last week compared with the year before.

“The surge in page views has been good for much of the news business, at least in the short term,” says NYT’s Marc Tracy. “The Journal, Bloomberg and The Daily Beast said they had signed up a much greater number of new subscribers than usual in recent weeks.”

Interest is heightened in a crisis, which should yield good results on the subscription side,” Greg Harwood, consultant at Simon-Kucher & Partners, told Digiday, “but it’s too early to tell if they are the right audience that are going to retain in the long term. And we’re not necessarily seeing the same trend among print subscriptions.”

Of course, with uncertainty about how long the effects of the pandemic will last, there are concerns about declines in ad revenue, loss of revenue from events, and further disruptions for publishers more dependent on print circulations.

Getting creative in a crisis

It’s not just COVID-19 that’s driving traffic to news publishers, though.—the content analytics service used by many major publishers—found that over 85% of all daily traffic to their clients’ sites was to content not related to coronavirus.

“We’ve seen overall attention (content views) throughout the network increase in the last few weeks, but especially so in the last several days,” said’s Senior Market Analyst Kelsey Arendt.

Some publishers are using this opportunity to get creative in a time of crisis. 

Katherine Wells, the Executive Producer of Podcasts at The Atlantic, recently suggested a new daily show during a call with Adrienne LaFrance, the publication’s executive editor.

Within a day, the first episode of “Social Distance” was ready.

It’s unlocking a world of experimentation and nimbleness,” LaFrance concluded.