Bring together the leaders of news organizations, platforms, and foundations, and you’re bound to get some honest opinions on the state of digital journalism. Rather than focus on dire predictions for the future, the dozens of industry executives brought together earlier this year by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard and the Lenfest Institute expressed an optimistic view of the future of digital publishing.
Publishing executives at the Shorenstein Center’s event agreed that reader revenue should be at the heart of sustainable business models for digital journalism, but they also acknowledged that newer strategies need to be explored in order for the industry to flourish. Revitalizing the digital publishing industry will require more than just the tried and true tactics for generating revenue online.
Advertising and reader subscriptions are still important, of course, but the industry group put together by the Shorenstein Center and the Lenfest Institute also came up with five new opportunities for publishers looking to grow sustainable businesses.
Let’s take a closer look at the areas of opportunity identified by this group of 63 industry leaders.
1. “Diversifying and strengthening revenue streams for journalism”
Despite the group’s instance that reader revenue should remain at the center of all sustainable business models, there was a lot of optimism around the idea that publishers can successfully drive support for their publications in different ways. There was also some acceptance among industry leaders that traditional revenue streams, including display advertising and reader subscriptions, are no longer enough to support digital publishing businesses on their own.
Diversification is something we’ve discussed quite a bit here at Web Publisher PRO. Our interest in diversifying digital publishers’ revenue streams is one of the reasons why we encourage our publishing clients to explore new opportunities, such as launching business directories, membership programs, and producing sponsored content for selected advertisers. Participants in the Shorenstein Center’s roundtable highlighted these strategies, as well as live events and direct public offerings, as potential solutions for digital publishing companies looking for long-term profitability.
2. “Field-building to grow a culture of philanthropy”
Interest in non-profit news organizations is growing, and philanthropic individuals are primed to support digital publishers’ efforts towards creating high-quality journalism. As display advertising dwindles, industry leaders are recommending that digital publishers begin exploring outside sources of philanthropic support. Accepting contributions from individuals and charitable organizations can create some challenges, and news organizations should keep a close eye on any strings that may be attached to donations from individuals that might have specific agendas.
3. “Finding and seeding growth capital for mission-driven journalism enterprises”
One of the hottest topics among attendees was about providing digital journalism startups with the resources they need to succeed.
Industry leaders say they have seen digital publishing startups struggle when they accept funding from firms with vastly different strategies for growth. One of the most substantial opportunities to come out of the Shorenstein Center’s roundtable involved the idea of an industry group creating a “Crunchbase for investors.” This website would connect investors and charitable groups with digital publishing organizations that have similar missions or goals.
4. “Growing the next generation of publishers in business acumen and leadership abilities”
Industry leaders agreed that it’s time for journalism schools to reimagine their curriculum, with a greater emphasis on business courses and financial education. One way to encourage this would be with the creation of more business-focused journalism fellowships, similar to Columbia Graduate School of Journalism’s Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism and UNC School of Media and Journalism’s business journalism program. Obtaining an MBA for journalism would give future digital publishers greater insights into how to turn around struggling companies and ultimately create the types of media organizations that could revitalize the digital publishing industry as a whole.
5. “Building products to increase revenue and engagement”
The final opportunity for revitalizing the digital publishing industry happens to be the one we’re most interested in here at Web Publisher PRO. That’s because we believe strongly that the key to growing this industry is introducing new products designed to increase revenue and engagement. Online directories, “best of” lists, community calendars, and jobs boards are just a few examples of the types of low-cost publishing tools that make sense for digital publishers interested in new streams of ancillary revenue.
If you’d like more information about the latest products we’re recommending for digital publishers of all sizes, we’d love to connect and offer some of our insights.