State Of The Content Publishing Industry

state of the publishing industry content publishers

About a month ago, we asked Lean Startup Life readers to complete a survey so we could take the temperature of the publishing industry in this strange and surreal period we’re living through. You answered, we analyzed, and it’s made me incredibly optimistic. That’s what I want to talk about this week, so let’s dive into the current state of the publishing industry for content publishers and advertisers. 

Talking Turkey & Taking A Hit

We’ve all read the news over the last few months of publishers cutting newsrooms and other staff in order to weather the storm. With all of that doom and gloom, I was expecting to see this reflected in publisher marketing teams as well, and I was surprised to discover that the situation was actually pretty positive. 

Over half of the respondents (54%) reported that there had been no staffing changes at all, 13% reported salary reductions, and 13% reported they were actively hiring. All told, this means that 80% of marketing teams have remained intact. I think this bodes well for the future. 

Marketing budgets are another place I tend to look to get the pulse, and there, 52% of respondents reported that their budgets have either remained the same or increased, while only 9% reported that they have been cut completely. In a nutshell - 91% of publishers are still investing in paid media to some extent. 

Agility Is Key For Publishers

I’ve spoken here multiple times about how some revenue streams have suffered since The Great Upheaval have taken a hit, but are recovering (branded content and ad revenue) while others are seeing unprecedented growth (eCommerce, newsletters and paid subscriptions). It’s clear from the survey that publishers are working hard to diversify their revenue streams in order to achieve long term stability. 

A whopping 73% of respondents are either actively testing or planning on testing new revenue streams. At we’re certainly seeing more of our customers testing out affiliate, newsletters, and paid subscription models. It’s encouraging to see that the industry as a whole is doing the same. 

Opportunities For Growth 

I want to point out an incredibly interesting statistic. 84% of publishers reported to have a newsletter program, but 75% of publishers who have one, are not monetizing them. Newsletters are prime real-estate that can be leveraged for sponsored takeovers, featured content, promotion of products and paid tiers, and so much more. Newsletters are, of course, about giving value to your subscribers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t draw value from them. Opportunities here are endless and publishers would be wise to embrace those. 

Of course there are countless other opportunities for publishers to test. Q4 this year is expected to be mammoth, so the time to start experimenting is here and now, while CPCs are still relatively low and the landscape overall is quiet. 

Optimism Abounds 

At the end of the day, my takeaway here is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for content marketers, publishers, and advertisers. We’re living through an incredible moment in history, and publishers are at the apex of this moment. The source of information, comfort, and distraction as billions of people around the world are in isolation and seeking out those things more than ever.  

Publisher Power

With numerous publishers reporting their annual or quarterly earnings in recent days, it’s become more evident than ever that digital subscription revenue will play a critical role for countless news publishers moving forward. In its full-year results for fiscal 2020, The Wall Street Journal announced a 23% bump in digital-only subscriptions, which now number nearly three million and account for 75% of the outlet’s overall subscriptions. And in its Q2 earnings announced last week, Gannett reported that its number of paying digital subscribers has increased 31% year-over-year. 

Perhaps the most telling headline from this week — and indicative of where the industry is headed — comes from The New York Times, which revealed that digital revenue now exceeds that of its print publication for the first time in the history of the company. It’s not surprising then, that with a goal of 10 million paying subscribers by 2025, The Grey Lady is actively exploring additional revenue-generating subscription opportunities. 

Another big subscription-related trend? Bundling. Earlier this month, Bloomberg Media and The Athletic teamed up for a joint subscription offering. And looking beyond just publishing, it appears as though Apple is gearing up to launch a comprehensive subscription product spanning its various monthly pay-to-play products. 

Google's Goodbye To The 3rd Party Cookie

Earlier this year, Google announced that its Chrome browser would kill the third-party cookie come 2022. And while there’s been no shortage of predictions about how this change will impact the publishing industry, practical advice seems to be in short supply. It’s time for publishers to stop relying on data and audiences that aren’t truly theirs. They need to take ownership of their audiences before it’s too late. 

Engaging Readers At Home

As this very unusual summer is starting to wind down, digital attention and only marketing copy shows no signs of slowing. As people continue to spend larger amounts of time at home, publishers are working hard to vie for their attention. To that end, publishers are turning to video and virtual events to build long-term relationships with their readers, as well as to drive ad dollars. 

Group Nine is taking niche content directly to where it matters most - family - with two of their brands, The Dodo and NowThis. The Dodo’s “DodoWell” digital expansion is all about caring for your pets, where NowThis Kids brings in a 13-year-old host to teach kids about social responsibility. Both of these initiatives come with big sponsorship deals - Petco for the former, and Cheerios for the latter. 

And they’re not the only ones driving branded dollars with video content aimed at young people. Bleacher Report has partnered with Audi to create a digital series featuring young athletes and their efforts to become Major League Soccer players. 

Of course, video doesn’t have to be niche, as some publishers are covering broader ground. AARP The Magazine is launching a new live video series called “AARP The Magazine Presents.” The series will cover a wide range of topics for the senior sect, from health and finance to celebrity interviews. 

On the virtual events front, the Financial times have taken a lifestyle event that is usually held in the confines of a London estate virtual, giving them the opportunity to connect with a more global audience. 

Conde Nast has gone all-in on virtual events, hosting the first-ever virtual event upfront, showcasing over 200 events across their properties that they hope will help drive advertising dollars. 

There’s no question that publishers are adapting to the current moment, and driving interesting, creative endeavors that truly bring value to everyone.

Publishing Power: Content Comeback

The industry took a hit. But we’re fighting back. We’re becoming more agile. We’re embracing new opportunities at an unprecedented rate. We’re in fighting shape and going strong. That gives me a lot of hope for the future for content publishers and advertisers alike.

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