A major survey of news industry trends globally has found leaders optimistic about the prospects for revenue growth in the year ahead despite “continued unpredictability” from challenges including falling referral traffic, Google phasing out third-party cookies and AI search engines.
The latest World Press Trends Outlook survey from global trade body World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) suggested news leaders felt they would begin to see their investment in new revenue streams start to pay off in 2024.
Just over half (55%) of 175 news executives surveyed around the world in July to September last year said they were optimistic about their company’s business prospects over the next 12 months.
Slightly more (58%) were optimistic about the next three years.
WAN-IFRA said this marked a “clear shift” towards being “more cautiously optimistic” than last year’s “sobering” report.
In the 2022/23 report, 45% were optimistic about the year ahead and 54% about the coming three years.
However, the latest survey was carried out only partway through a tough 2023 for publishers with many layoffs coming at the end of the year and Google algorithm changes having the biggest adverse effect in the final quarter.
Dean Roper, director of insights and editor-in-chief at WAN-IFRA, said: “Many publishers we talk to are clearly concerned about the ongoing challenges to the industry and their businesses – speed of transformation and innovation, diversifying their revenue streams, securing a sustainable business model, better understanding and engagement of their audiences and more.
“But there also has clearly been great progress on all those fronts, and others, in the last years to bring this level of optimism. And, certainly, this varies from region to region, market to market and publisher to publisher.”
Publishers expected to see year-on-year revenue growth of 18.5% in 2024, up from a predicted 15.2% in 2023, 16.4% in 2022 and 7.3% in 2021.
However, WAN-IFRA analysis of PwC data estimates overall news media revenues were down by 2.76% year-on-year between 2022 and 2023.
WAN-IFRA suggested the executives' optimism could be put down to their hope that increased diversification will take effect: “Much of this confidence is driven by the expectation that continued investment in new revenue streams is starting to pay off.”
The report added that although the global ad market was expected to grow by 5.8% in 2023 according to global ad agency GroupM, news media advertising was expected to decline by about 4.6% in 2023 and by slightly less in 2024 (3.1%). Data has shown tech giants benefit the most from a growth in overall ad spend.
The PwC data indicates that global newspaper advertising spend has decreased from $45.7bn in 2019 ($35.1bn in print and $10.6bn in digital) to $33.3bn in 2024 ($21.4bn in print and $11.9bn in digital).
News media advertising and circulation revenue in decline
Meanwhile, global print newspaper circulation revenue has declined from $55.6bn in 2019 ($50.3bn in print and $5.3bn in digital) to $48.2bn in 2024 ($39.8bn in print and $8.4bn in digital) showing how print decline continues to outpace digital progress.
Total paid-for daily newspaper circulation globally is believed to have dropped from 543 million in 2019 (93% from print) to 474 million in 2014 (88% in print). Print circulation is expected to decline by 4.3% in 2024.
Biggest revenue sources for news publishers in 2024
Platform partnerships, business services and business transactions were all areas that increased in importance to publishers between 2022 and 2023, although events, data and memberships declined in priority.
The major elections being held this year around the world, plus the 2024 Paris Olympics, were predicted to boost both revenues and audience engagement.
Reader revenue (83%), product development (82%) and developing other revenue streams (80%) were all named as essential areas for investment this year by more than eight in ten respondents.
AI was the biggest priority technology/product for investment, with 87% saying it was a key area for investment over the next 12 months, followed by data analytics and intelligence (86%), video (79%) and audio/podcasts (74%).
Just over a third (34%) were very optimistic that generative AI presented opportunities for their business, while 58% were somewhat optimistic and 8% were not optimistic at all.
However, at the time of the survey 67% felt their business was poorly prepared to take advantage of those opportunities, with 16% each saying they were either not prepared at all or well prepared.
The report noted that the challenges facing the industry this year could prove to be opportunities: “AI? Despite all the fears, speed bumps and bigger challenges, publishers overwhelmingly see the potential of how AI can bolster their journalism and business. Trust in news? Huge news events like elections offer publishers the ideal occasion to reaffirm their role as a trusted destination.
“Platforms exiting news? An opportunity for publishers to truly embrace audiences-first, user-needs strategies to deepen engagement and, yes, grow their audiences. Cookies disappearing? An opportunity (again) for publishers to go all-in on first-party data for a more predictable, sustainable future.”
How dynamic between publishers and platforms has changed
Advertising was projected to make up 43% of respondents’ revenue over the next 12 months, down from 48% a year before. Reader revenue stayed steady on about 35%.
The report said the survey “reinforces the fact that publishers have not turned their back on advertising. Far from it. Not only does this remain the single largest source of their income, but many outlets are also continuing to identify fresh ways to grow their advertising revenues.”
Print continues to dominate, also staying constant on about 58% of revenues. Digital circulation revenues grew by 2% but digital advertising declined by 11% as the tech giants take the biggest slice of the pie.
The survey also found that publishers’ relationships with the big tech platforms such as Google and Facebook and Instagram owner Meta had stayed fairly steady even as algorithm changes began to seriously hit referral traffic. Meta lost its head of news media partnerships in October, after the survey was carried out, while it announced in September it would wind down its Facebook News tab in the UK, a decision it already made in the US.
Just over a fifth (22.7%) said the dynamic between their news organisation and the platforms had got worse in the past year, though this was higher at 24% a year earlier. Fewer news execs also felt relations had improved, 41% saying this had gone in the right direction versus 45% previously. More people felt there had been no change, with this group growing from 30% to 36%.
The report suggested that the news execs may feel this way despite the change in strategy on the part of many of the platforms because of a “shift in expectations about the platform-publisher relationship”.
“As relationships with platforms mature, more publishers may also recognise that these dynamics are less about revenue, and more about brand recognition, as well as building relationships with audiences and online communities,” it said. “The hope is that these relationships can then be parlayed into revenue elsewhere.”
Tiktok has also emerged as a major platform for news with its own potential for revenue sharing becoming clear in 2023 with initiatives like the Pulse Premiere product.
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