Digital News Subscriptions Jump During Pandemic

  • by April 15, 2020
Every day brings more headlines about the dire condition of publishers as the coronavirus pandemic forces advertisers to cut, delay or stop their media spending. The crisis has magnified the need to diversify revenue, including paid subscriptions that have seen a surge in demand, a study suggests.

The growth rate for digital news and media subscriptions tripled last month from a year earlier, amid heightened demand from those stuck indoors, according to the Subscription Impact Report published by Zuora. The subscription software company surveyed the growth of more than 700 of its customers among a variety of industries.

The company's report is interesting in the context of several anecdotal reports from publishers about their subscription growth.

Vox Media, the digital media company that last year merged with New York magazine's publisher, said digital subscriptions to its website hit a record during the week of March 23, according to an internal memo cited by CNBC. The announcement was the only bright spot in a memo from CEO Jim Bankoff that outlined its plans to furlough workers amid declines in ad revenue.



New York's paywall stands in stark contrast to Vox's brands that don't restrict access. Last week, it asked for donations to support its main site and Recode, which covers the high-tech industry.

While many news sites have dropped the paywalls on their coronavirus news coverage, there are signs that some publishers have converted the surge in traffic into paying subscribers. The Atlantic magazine racked up a record tally of 36,000 new paid subscriptions, according to an internal memo from EIC Jeffrey Goldberg, cited by CNN.

CNBC Digital has nearly tripled subscriptions to its CNBC Pro premium service since last year, while traffic surged past 1 billion page views in March amid higher demand for news about COVID-19, Publishers Daily reported.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Telegraph, TheStreet, Business Insider and Bloomberg Newsalso have paywalls -- and there's nothing wrong with creating value through scarcity.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted how publishers need to develop recurring revenues from readers to smooth out more dramatic shifts in ad spending. Containing the pandemic will set the stage for a recovery in ad spending, but publishers will be stronger with more diverse sources of revenue.

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