Key Trends in Publishing

Podcasting, Privacy, and Other Key Trends Impacting Publishers in 2020

These are the key trends impacting digital publishers in 2020 — and beyond

What a year it’s been. After experiencing a tumultuous winter and a record-setting spring and summer, when traffic figures at many digital news outlets went through the roof, a new normal has begun to set in. Publishers right now are setting up their strategies for 2021 and reflecting back on the lessons they’ve learned in 2020.

In a new report by What’s New in Publishing, industry leaders highlight some of the key trends, events, and fundamental changes that are impacting our industry right now. Many of these trends are expected to have an influence on how publishers navigate the world in 2021, as they look at making strategic decisions to move their businesses forward.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Podcasting Renaissance

After a brief drop in listener numbers in late winter, podcasting experienced a resurgence in 2020. More publishers have added podcasts to their lineup than ever before, and that’s a good thing for both their audiences and for their financial futures.

According to predictions by PwC, the amount of advertising revenue in podcasting is expected to hit $814 million, and U.S. podcast advertising revenue is expected to grow another 14.7% next year.

Publishers in 2020 really began to cash in on the increased opportunities they were finding in podcasting and other audio formats. According to WNIP’s report, there were 133,171 new shows in Apple Podcasts in June 2020 alone. That’s the highest number of new shows to ever be added in a single month.

Larger media companies acquired a record number of podcasting firms this year, but one of the key trends among smaller digital publishers has been a push toward building out increased podcast production capabilities. Many digital publishers spent the year creating audio versions of their most popular articles. Posting audio versions of existing articles is a low cost way to generate more reader engagement and revenue. Publishers like Zetland, a Danish publication, were even able to gain new subscribers by posting more content in audio format.

Reader Revenue is WAY Up

One of the best key trends in WNIP’s report is the increase in reader revenue that publishers have seen since the pandemic began in earnest last winter. With plenty of time on their hands and nowhere to go, people around the globe flocked to digital news websites for information and entertainment. That growth in traffic and engagement quickly turned into an increase in reader revenue. Now, as we look into 2021, it’s up to publishers to maintain the momentum.

Digital subscription rates have risen to new heights. In particular, publications focused on content for children, cooks, and gardeners have seen record traffic gains.

In addition to generating revenue through reader subscriptions, more publishers are also asking their audiences to contribute by purchasing tickets to virtual events, buying e-commerce products, and signing up for website membership programs.

Growth in First-Party Data Strategies

Google’s announcement in 2020 that it would be working towards making third-party cookies obsolete within two years took some digital publishers by surprise. While the announcement shouldn’t have been completely unexpected, it did require a bit of maneuvering for publishers to figure out a way to navigate the changing privacy landscape. Google’s move also led to one of the key trends we’ve seen in 2020, which is the growing use of first-party data in the absence of third-party cookies.

What publishers have discovered this year is that first-party data can be incredibly useful as they grow their direct digital advertising programs. While the ability to build standalone data management tools is something that’s generally reserved for the largest media publishers, like Vox Media and NBC Universal, there is a trickle down effect, and first-party data is more attainable now for smaller publishers than it was previously.

The tides have shifted and publishers that rely primarily on direct digital ad sales now have an edge over those on programmatic ad networks. Although marketing budgets at many brands shrank during the early months of pandemic, we have heard from news publishers who say local businesses now are even more keen to advertise digitally, so they can let customers know about their Covid-compliant operations.

While the advertising outlook for publishers is still in flux as we head into 2021, there’s more optimism within the industry today than we have seen in a long time. Publishers who have put in the effort to strengthen their first-party data strategies are in a better position now than they were before the pandemic.