Digiday+ Research: A majority of publishers now sell products directly to their audiences

This research is based on unique data collected from our proprietary audience of publisher, agency, brand and tech insiders. It’s available to Digiday+ members. More from the series →

Many successful digital businesses see content as a loss leader, designed to attract large numbers of potential customers who can be sold any number of products or services.

Publishers might not be there yet, but they are definitely embracing the opportunity to sell directly to their audiences, according to new Digiday+ research. 

In September, Digiday surveyed over 80 publisher professionals about how their organizations make money. The research yielded insights about their subscription marketing tactics, the composition of their affiliate commerce businesses

It also revealed that a majority of the respondents said that their organizations make some money from selling products directly to their readers. While its impact on the bottom line tends to be minor — more than three quarters of the respondents who make money from selling products describe it as a “small portion” of their revenue — the scope of publishers doing it signals that the publishing industry, as a whole, is starting to embrace a different mindset when it comes to the way it thinks about revenue diversification. 

As publishers struggled to grow their digital advertising businesses in the face of competition from Google and Facebook, many have been on a years-long path to diversify their revenue streams. 

That has created a picture where many publishers now have multiple streams of income. While the share of publishers that make a lot of money selling products is small, it is comparable to the share of publishers that generate lots of money from many other emerging revenue streams. 

In a separate survey conducted at the beginning of the third quarter of 2021, over 110 publisher professionals answered questions about how their organizations make money. 

While the respondents were not identical from survey to survey, a nearly identical percentage said that they generated money from selling products. The percentage that said their organizations generated at least a “large” portion of their revenue from doing so was in line with the percentage that said their organizations made at least a “large” portion of revenue from events, or affiliate commerce, or content licensing.  



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