Commentary

News Publishers Share Promising Ideas For Pandemic Recovery

News publishers are responding to the coronavirus pandemic with several key strategies aimed at emerging from the health crisis and economic slowdown stronger than before. Many of the strategies look promising, such as developing "advertising solutions" that are broader than selling ad space and fostering reader loyalty that outlasts the pandemic.
Publishers last month gathered to share their ideas for revenue growth, audience development and the ongoing shift to digital by local newspapers at the yearly Media Leaders Summit, which the World Association of News Publishers last month hosted as a virtual event. The group recently published a summary of the proceedings that distills some key insights.
Publishers are looking to next year for real signs of revenue gains as the economy recovers, helping to monetize the surge in web traffic they've seen as readers look for reliable news. Eighty-four percent of 200 attendees at the summit's CEO town hall discussion said they expect lower profits this year, and 38% said they're cutting ad sales staff.

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To adapt to the changing marketplace, publishers are reorganizing their sales teams to focus on industry verticals rather than media agencies, boosting content marketing efforts and emphasizing their strengths in engaging readers in a brand-safe environment.

“It’s about far more sophisticated discussions with clients," said Phillip Crawley, CEO of the Globe and Mail in Canada. "It’s more about aligning with companies that share values and want to be associated with those organizations that seem to reflect their priorities and values."

Reader revenue also is a bigger priority as publishers face growing competition digital powerhouses like Facebook and Google. Ara, a daily newspaper in Spain, generates 63% of revenue from readers and subscribers, helping to lessen the effect of lost ad revenue.

The newspaper found that 80% of readers were looking at 26% of the content it published, leading it to adopt an "audiences first" strategy of targeted content. It found that its op-ed section received some of the most online views, and placed it behind a paywall. Other publishers should consider that strategy, along with a focus on any differentiated news that's not commoditized across the internet.

Spanish publisher Henneo has gradually tightened its metered paywall in the past few months. In February, it allowed people to see 40 articles before requiring registration, a number that it cut to 30 in March and is now 20. Registrations surged from 66% of 99% of visitor — and led the newsroom to consider content that's most relevant to readers.

Building relationships with readers lays the foundation for broader sales efforts that will carry publishers into the post-pandemic future.
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