Digiday+ Research: Publishers held onto their staff and titles last year, even as traffic fell

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 →

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Last year was not a great one for publishers’ traffic, it turns out. But even so, many publishers maintained their full-time staff and published titles.

This is according to Digiday+ Research surveys of more than 300 publisher professionals.

Digiday’s surveys found that publishers saw a significant drop-off in traffic last year. More than half of publisher professionals (51%) said late in the fourth quarter of 2023 that their traffic decreased in 2023, compared with just under a third (31%) who said their traffic increased in 2023. That’s a reversal from the year before, when 36% said their traffic decreased in 2022 and 46% said their traffic increased.

Digging a bit deeper, the percentage of publishers who said their traffic increased significantly in 2023 was actually up from 2022: 13% said their traffic increased significantly last year, compared with 7% the year before. However, the percentage of publishers who said their traffic increased somewhat saw a big drop last year: 18% of publisher pros told Digiday in Q4 2023 that their traffic had increased somewhat since the start of 2023, down from 39% who said the same in Q4 2022.

At the same time, the percentage of publisher pros who told Digiday their traffic decreased somewhat or significantly increased in both cases, although much more so for the latter. Thirty percent of publishers said their traffic decreased somewhat in 2023, up slightly from 27% who said so in 2022. But 21% said their traffic decreased significantly in 2023, up from just 9% who said the same in 2022.

Despite traffic decreases, Digiday’s surveys found that the largest percentage of publishers maintained the size of their full-time staff last year. Forty percent of publisher pros said in Q4 2023 that the size of their companies’ full-time staff had neither increased nor decreased since the start of the year, compared with just more than a third (34%) who said the size of their staff decreased last year and just more than a quarter (26%) who said their staff increased.

That 40% did mark a significant increase from 2022, however, when 30% of publisher pros told Digiday that the size of their full-time staff stayed the same (which was already an increase from the 23% who said the same in 2021). The percentage of publishers who said their staff decreased somewhat (as opposed to significantly) also trended upward over the same period — from 15% in 2021 to 25% in 2022 to 29% in 2023.

At the same time, the percentages of publishers who said their full-time staff increased somewhat or significantly throughout the year has been trending downward. Twenty-two percent of publisher pros told Digiday in Q4 2021 that the size of their companies’ full-time staff increased significantly throughout the year. That percentage fell to 12% in Q4 2022 and again to just 5% in Q4 2023. Meanwhile, 37% of publishers said in 2021 that their full-time staff increased somewhat, compared with 29% in 2022 and 21% in 2023.

Digiday’s surveys also found that the number of titles put out by publishers stayed the same last year, even with traffic declines. Nearly two-thirds of publisher pros (64%) told Digiday in Q4 2023 that the number of titles their companies published neither increased nor decreased throughout the year. Meanwhile, just over a quarter (27%) said the number of titles they published last year increased and 9% said they decreased.

These percentages have remained fairly steady in the last few years — 25% of publishers said the number of titles they published increased in 2022, 7% said they decreased and 69% said the number stayed the same that year. But it is worth noting that in Q4 2023, not one respondent to Digiday’s survey said the number of titles they publish decreased significantly during the year. Five percent had said their titles decreased significantly the year before.

https://digiday.com/?p=533482

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