The digital publishing world has turned upside down over the past six months, and media executives are still working to get their bearings. While 2019 was a year filled with surprises, no one could have guessed the wild ride publishers would be taking in 2020.
Ad rates are dropping, but membership programs and subscription rates are growing and picking up the slack. Just as publishers got comfortable with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), they had to start putting together plans to comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Through it all, the publishing industry has remained resilient. Publishers at every end of the spectrum are beating the odds and finding paths toward profitability, even in a challenging economic environment.
Below, we’ll take a look at the biggest digital publishing trends in 2020 — what publishers care about, what’s giving them concern, and what new innovations are on the horizon that have the potential to cause disruption in the second half of the year.
2020’s Biggest Digital Publishing Trends
How Are Publishers Generating Revenue?
Display ad rates were declining before 2020 began, but the coronavirus pandemic has made the situation much more serious. Ad prices on YouTube have already dropped 20%, and smaller digital publishers and publishing platforms are seeing similar falls. Publishers who were already on the fence about whether to continue working with programmatic advertising are saying that the swift drop in rates has made the decision for them. Many of these publishers are adapting their business strategies to focus more heavily on sponsored content and membership programs.
As we continue to look forward into the second half of 2020, membership programs keep popping up as a viable strategy for publishers looking at revenue optimization. When they’re using the right tools and time-testing conversion strategies, publishers can make up for the drop in advertising rates by selling membership packages to their readers. Membership programs tend to be similar to subscriptions, except they usually come with added “perks,” like access to exclusive content and virtual events or meetups.
Large digital-first publishers, like BuzzFeed and Yahoo Finance, are continuing to strengthen their membership programs in 2020. When Buzzfeed asked its readers to chip in to help fund its journalism endeavours, the publication saw average-per-person contributions of more than $20, as well as “tens of thousands in revenue” overall. Smaller publications are seeing similarly posititve results with membership programs that are promoted through email solicitations and on-site overlays.
What’s Happening with Live Events?
Live events became a major source of revenue for publishers in 2019. Large media organizations like the New York Times and the New Yorker generated millions by selling tickets to their conferences and festivals. Local news publishers and city or regional magazines were finding success on a smaller scale by hosting community meetups and sponsoring events like concerts and food festivals.
Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic have caused live events to be put on hold for now. As publishers prepare for in-person events to return this fall, or perhaps in 2021, they’re beginning to sell tickets to virtual events that take place online. Thanks to the popularity of video conferencing platforms, like Zoom and others, virtual conferences have become one of the major digital publishing trends expected to impact the industry in 2020.
Although virtual events bring in just one-third to one-half of the revenue of live events, they also come with fewer upfront costs for the hosting organization. Sponsorship sales will likely take a hit, but plenty of readers will still pay to take part in the virtual versions of their favorite annual events. We expect virtual events to become one of the digital publishing trends that will extend past 2020, as publishers continue to look for new ways to leverage their events capabilities and diversify revenue.
Everyone’s Got a Podcast
Almost all of the biggest digital publishing trends in 2020 connect back to the pandemic. With social distancing becoming the norm, and more people spending time at home, podcasting has grown to epic proportions. Large media organizations like The New York Times have been running successful podcasts for years, but audience demand–and the opportunity for even more revenue diversification–is causing smaller digital publishers to get in on the action, as well.
Local news sites, city magazines, and niche blog publishers are all launching podcasts in 2020. Some publishers are keeping their podcasts behind paywalls, available exclusively to members or subscribers. Other publishers are casting a wide net and bringing in revenue through advertising that runs before, after, and during their podcasts. New web platforms are coming onto the market that make it easy for anyone to monetize a podcast. As long as the opportunity for profitability is still there, this is another one of the digital publishing trends we expect to extend well past 2020.
What Do You Think?
What digital publishing trends are you noticing this year, and how have the trends we saw in 2019 shifted in light of the coronavirus pandemic? We’d love to get your thoughts, and find out what other monetization opportunities you see opening up in 2020.