Large digital and legacy publishers alike – including BDG, Disney, Gannett, Vox Media and The Washington Post – have shed staff via multiple rounds of layoffs that began as far back as late 2022. By October 2023, the media industry had announced over 19,000 job cuts year-to-date, compared to 3,000 in the same period in 2022.
In the first two weeks of November alone: G/O Media shuttered Jezebel and made some cuts at Gizmodo and The Onion, Vice Media said it would shutter a number of Vice News shows, CNBC cut around 20 people at CNBC.com, and Condé Nast said it planned to cut about 270 jobs, or 5% of its workforce.
Media execs blamed a challenging economy and a soft advertising market as the primary reasons for cost-cutting measures. Essentially: Advertising revenue is proving harder to come by.
Economic factors play a large part, but the challenges run much deeper. Competition for ad dollars among publishers continues to intensify thanks to an oversupply of inventory, advertisers continue to express little interest in appearing next to news and potentially polarizing content, and advertiser attention continues to shift toward large platforms such as Google, Amazon and Meta. Consumers are increasingly trying to avoid advertising when they can, too.
Debates about the merits of subscription models for digital publishers continue to rattle around some corners of the industry. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that publishers with strong subscription and reader-revenue bases are faring better in the current media environment than those without. While it’s true that subscription models aren’t “silver bullets” that magically solve publishers’ revenue challenges, what serious publisher was expecting them to be? Survival in digital media often hinges on identifying the least bad option, not crossing your fingers and hoping for a perfect one.
Yes, managing churn remains a challenge – as it does for any business with repeat customers. And no, subscriber growth isn’t getting any easier. But in an increasingly shaky advertising market, the relative stability of subscription revenue continues to help many publishers keep the lights on.
Subscription models have allowed publishers to more closely align their business models and content strategies with the needs and interests of their audiences, and publishers that have succeeded in developing compelling subscription offerings are sitting in far stronger positions than those that haven’t. Layering revenue from advertising, events and other streams on top of a robust and reliable subscription base continues to prove a relatively sustainable model.