Digiday Research: Commerce is now a revenue stream for a majority of publishers

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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 →

To stay on track during the bumpiest stretch of last year’s pandemic, lots of publishers were forced to focus on simple revenue tactics. Even as things began to open back up, it led to more and more publishers at least giving affiliate commerce a try for the first time, according to Digiday+ research.

In early July, Digiday polled 126 publisher professionals about how their companies make money. The survey presented a list of revenue sources and asked respondents to indicate how much of their revenue came from each, using five options that ranged from “none of our revenue” to “an extremely large portion of our revenue.”

More than 60% of respondents said that commerce represented at least a portion of their revenues, up from around one third just six months earlier. That leap nearly matches a similar one recorded six months earlier, when the share jumped from 18%.

The survey marked the third time Digiday has asked its research panel these questions; it previously asked them in the first quarter of 2020, and the third quarter of 2020 prior to that.

While the respondents — and the exact number of them — in each sample was not identical over time, their composition was similar; in all three samples, Digiday received at least 30 responses from publishers that generated less than $10 million in revenue per year, 30 responses from publishers that generated between $10 million and $50 million, and 30 responses from publishers that generate more than $50 million per year.

To be clear, most of the revenue coming in from commerce remains small. More than half of the respondents who said they generated at least some revenue from commerce in Digiday’s most recent survey described it as a “very small portion” of their revenues. That share remained nearly identical six months earlier. Just 21% of the publishers that make money from commerce — and 13% overall — described it as at least a “large” portion of their revenues.

That 13% was much smaller than the percentages of respondents who described things such as subscriptions (23%) or branded content (32%) as at least “large” portions of revenue.

Commerce was one entry on a short list of emerging or incremental revenue streams that grew for publishers during the first half of this year. While the pandemic’s unique set of circumstances significantly accelerated lots of digital consumer behavior, it seems to have had a less-than-ideal effect on publishers’ revenue diversification efforts.


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