Local news publishers are facing challenges they’ve never seen before, as they deal with the Covid-19 pandemic from both a business perspective and a journalistic one. Throughout the crisis, publications across the country have seen record traffic. They have also seen a pullback in local business advertising, causing concern among many in the industry.
According to new data from FIPP, a media industry trade association, the Covid-19 crisis has been a mixed blessing as far as content distribution is concerned. Although newsstand sales of print magazines and newspapers have dropped, subscriptions are up. Digital publishers have seen a “huge” spike in print and digital subscriptions. Subscriptions to WSJ.com are up 110% since the pandemic began this past spring.
With people everywhere glued to their computers during the early days of the crisis, traffic to news websites has seen a massive jump. During those early days, people around the country were searching for information about what was going on in their local communities. How long would schools be closed? Which businesses were staying open? How many ICU beds were available at area hospitals?
As the pandemic has continued on, the articles that people are clicking on most have changed. Evergreen content has become more popular, as people look to fill their time at home by consuming information about hobbies they can try or general topics they’ve always wanted to learn more about. Whether digital publishing survives the pandemic will depend largely on how successful publishers are at creatively monetizing that content.
Many publishers took down their paywalls in the spring, when people were scrambling for information about the outbreak. Now, those paywalls have started going back up. As a result, FIPP found an uptick in income generation through subscription sales. Will the increase in subscription sales make up for the slowdown in advertising? That’s still unclear at the moment.
In the unique time we find ourselves in, some publishers are getting creative with how they monetize their websites. For example, a London-based publication called The Stylist recently experimented with ways to monetize its spike in traffic by launching a mobile app. Although the mobile app is free to download, and some content can be accessed for free, users must pay if they want to access a digital version of the magazine in the app. In the first two weeks after the app’s debut, more than 10,000 people downloaded The Stylist’s app.
BIA/Kelsey has warned that even with the expected rise in online political advertising in 2020, local publishers should still anticipate a 3.6% year-over-year drop in advertising due to Covid-19. Other surveys have shown double digit declines across all U.S. local advertising. However, there is a silver lining. Publishers in certain areas are already looking for partnerships and finding new opportunities. While car magazines and sports magazines are expected to take the biggest hit, there’s a possibility that local news may end up being comparatively unscathed.
Events scheduled through the spring, summer, and even fall have largely been cancelled. The lack of revenue from ticket sales could potentially mean big budget shortfalls for media companies that have come to rely on hosting conferences and other live events as a way to generate revenue. The revenue stream hasn’t been entirely stamped out, though. Through the summer and fall, more publishers are expected to host virtual conferences. Even with slower ticket sales, publishers are finding that major sponsors are still willing to participate. It’s likely that virtual conferences and other events will continue to be a part of the publisher’s revenue strategy long after the threat of Covid-19 has subsided.
Covid-19 has changed nearly everything about our lives, but it has also opened the doors to new revenue opportunities and accelerated the adoption of new technologies across virtually every industry. Despite concerns about the future of local publishing, the data shows us that the industry itself is still very strong. Publishers who adapt to the changing tides may find themselves in an even better position post-Covid than before.
If you would like to learn more about getting your publication into the best possible position to handle the fallout from Covid-19, reach out to our team at Web Publisher PRO.