Digiday+ Research: Publishers are a lot less pessimistic about subscriptions amid economic downturn

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 →

Nearly 90% of publisher professionals told Digiday+ Research in a recent survey that they believe we’re entering a recession. And while publishers are clearly pessimistic about how the economy will affect their revenues from ad sales (85% of respondents agree that the economy will hurt ad sales in 2023), there is significantly less pessimism about how subscriptions will fare.

Digiday surveyed 73 publisher pros this fall and found that two-thirds of publishers get revenue from subscriptions. Of those publishers, slightly more than a third (37%) said they agree somewhat or strongly that the economy will hurt subscription revenue in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, closer to half (44%) of respondents to Digiday’s survey said they agree somewhat or strongly that subscription revenue will suffer in 2023 due to the economy.

However, a good number of publishers are unsure about what to expect. Forty-two percent of publisher pros said they didn’t agree or disagree that the economy will hurt their subscription revenues in Q4, and 36% said the same of 2023. Twenty percent of respondents disagreed somewhat or strongly that the economy will hurt subscription revenues in both Q4 and next year.

Only 17% of respondents to Digiday’s survey said they agree somewhat or strongly that they plan to discount subscription prices more aggressively due to the state of the economy, compared with 35% who said they disagree somewhat or strongly.

It looks like the largest percentage of publishers are planning to take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to their subscription discount strategies. Forty-eight percent of publisher pros said they don’t agree or disagree that the state of the economy will drive them to offer deeper subscription discounts. This likely means the respondents who chose this option aren’t at a place where they’re making business decisions about this particular topic — yet.

It is possible that even despite the economic downturn, a good number of publishers won’t relent on subscription discounts. After all, 32% of publisher pros said they never offer subscription discounts, Digiday reported last month. And even when it comes to the discount-happy holiday season, only 21% said they plan to offer deeper subscription discounts during the holidays this year – down from 32% last year – with 61% of those who will offer holiday subscription discounts keeping it simple with percentage discounts.

Just as with many other aspects of the upcoming holiday season and heading into next year, only time will tell how publishers’ subscription businesses play out.

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