The U.S. economy erased five years of growth in the first half of 2020 as the pandemic led to lockdowns, job losses and a steep drop in consumer spending before mostly recovering
by the end of the year.
Amid the economic whipsaw, subscription revenue growth for publishers grew throughout the year,
according to a report on those trends.
Publishers saw a 16% increase in subscription revenue by the end of 2020, as measured by a segment of the Subscription Economy Index
(SEI). Subscription billing software maker Zoura created the benchmark to track business activity
for subscription-based products and services. The index also includes components from other subscription-based businesses in other industries like telecommunications and manufacturing.
Consumer demand for news was a key driver of subscription growth for publishers, according to the report.
“From the COVID-19 pandemic, to Brexit, to
protests in response to racial injustice, to a monumental U.S. election, 2020 may go down as one of the most news-breaking years in the existence of digital publishing," according to the report.
"Subscription publishers were able to supply crucial reporting to subscribers during this time by providing them with easy access and options for consuming the news.”
The report is partly confirmed by the earnings results from publicly traded publishers, such as News Corp., The New York Times Co. and Gannett Corp. They were among the publishers that converted higher web traffic
among homebound consumers into paid subscriptions,
partly offsetting declines in ad revenue.
“Publishers in the SEI experimented with new subscription billing models, including more monthly billing (over annual billing),
which offers subscribers the option of smaller, more frequent payments," according to Zuora. "Creative subscription models can help publishing companies offer readers customizable packages and
seamless options to upgrade, suspend or renew their accounts. Ultimately, innovative approaches in digital publishing can help expand access to information that matters.”