The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism released its annual Digital News Report last week. Based on a YouGov survey of 93,000 people, the report aims to capture consumer sentiment towards news publishers and trends in news consumption across 46 global markets.
Overall, the report reinforces what we’ve been telling clients and readers over the past 12 months. While many publishers have had a relatively strong year in terms of revenue, continued growth will be challenged by the impact of inflation and the shrinking of household budgets as economic conditions worsen and the cost of living continues to increase. The good news is: While subscription revenue is not immune to broader economic conditions, it’s often more stable and insulated than revenue from other streams such as advertising and commerce.
As we’ve pointed out in recent months, publishers will need to be even more focused on meeting the needs of specific audiences and demonstrating value to users if they expect to see continued subscription growth in the year ahead. Consumers now have access to an unprecedented amount of content, products, and services competing for their attention and hard-earned money, and they’re becoming far more discerning about where they direct both. News products must create and communicate clear value and utility in order to convince consumers to pay.
This year’s report included a handful of key takeaways for subscription publishers:
A large proportion of digital news subscriptions go to a handful of big brands. As noted in last year’s report, “winner takes all” subscription dynamics continue to prevail in many markets, meaning a handful of large national brands account for the majority of news subscriptions in many markets. In the U.S. this dynamic is less pronounced, however, with the majority of paying subscribers taking out more than one subscription.
Relatively few readers say they plan to cancel subscriptions despite economic conditions. While news subscription growth may be slowing, there’s little evidence the market for subscriptions will contract. Despite concerns that some publishers could see widespread cancellations driven by belt-tightening and continued economic uncertainty, relatively few respondents to the YouGov survey said they plan to have fewer subscriptions next year. The majority said they expect to maintain the same number of subscriptions, while in some markets relatively large portions of respondents said they expected to have more.
Some readers remain reluctant to register. First-party data collection is becoming a priority for publishers with the imminent demise of third-party cookies, and many are now leaning on registration walls to help in their efforts. However, the report found that most consumers are still reluctant to register their email address with news sites, with only around a third (32%) of respondents saying they trust news websites to use their personal data responsibly. The figure is even lower in the U.S. at 18%.
General interest in news is declining. Consumption of traditional news media is declining, and online consumption isn’t making up the gap. Some consumers say they are turning away from the news media and in some cases disconnecting from news altogether. Interest in news has fallen sharply across markets, from 63% in 2017 to 51% in 2022. Meanwhile, the proportion of news consumers who say they actively avoid the news has increased sharply across countries. This type of selective avoidance has doubled in both Brazil (54%) and the UK (46%) over the last five years, with many respondents saying news has a negative effect on their mood.
News discovery is becoming more distributed. Publishers’ websites and apps are becoming less important for discovery as more readers prefer to access news via social media, search and mobile aggregators. Across all markets, just 23 percent of respondents said they prefer to start their news journeys with a website or app, down nine points since 2018. This trend is particularly prevalent among younger readers, who have an even weaker relationship with websites and apps.
Persuading young people to pay for news remains a challenge, with the average age of a digital news subscriber at almost 50. A significant proportion of younger people said they avoid news because it can be hard to follow or understand.