Fake News Will Be Beaten By Subscriptions, Not Display

How we pay for quality journalism is set to be the big issue of 2019, reading between the lines of the latest report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. There are many points of interest in the study, but this is the fundamental question that most of them lead toward.

The first answer comes from the staggering finding that just over half of the 200 or more digital media leaders believe subscriptions and memberships will be their prime source of income this year. That is nearly twice the proportion who feel that display advertising will be their main revenue source.

As the researchers suggest, this is a massive shift in focus over the past year for online publishing. Interestingly, nearly a third expect financial help from a charity or not-for-profit body, and nearly one in five think tech companies will provide a lending hand.

The latter point is an interesting finding now that there is a widespread belief that the recommendations from the Cairncross Review, into how quality journalism can be funded, will likely tackle the duopoly of Google and Facebook.

This could result in the tech companies somehow being made to financially support quality journalism as well as possibly forcing the duopoly to accept the responsibility, and increased regulation, of being formally labelled publishers.

Press Gazette reported on the research by referring to one of its lines that we will see a wave of redundancies this year in journalism that will be bigger than anything we have witnessed in recent years. With media consolidation moving ahead at pace, print circulations and advertising revenue declining at pace, it is a sad but possibly inevitable path 2019 will take.

However, the overall macro view that will be shaped this year is not an attempt to buck an overwhelming trend to move from print to digital -- a market dominated by the tech giants. It will be the year when the industry asks the fundamental question of how we pay for quality articles so the public can have confidence in the veracity of what they are reading.

Interestingly, there is a further interesting point in the Reuters research. This year will likely see a lessening of focus on Facebook as the report reveals that publishers are increasingly concerned by their organic reach being diminished by algorithm tweaks.

This means Google is rated as being twice as important this year, which can only mean one thing. Publishers are shifting away from social and expecting search to take up the slack.

After years of relying on Facebook for reach and digital advertising to bridge the chasm between traditional revenues and digital income, it looks like we are going to see a seismic shift this year toward subscriptions and memberships while search triumphs over social's weakening organic reach. 

Some fundamental questions will be asked this year as to whether the affected social giants are publishers, but against this backdrop, publishers are already deciding that digital advertising is only half as likely to keep the lights on as subscription fees. That is a massive shift in the digital media landscape.

Next story loading loading..