Digiday+ Research: Publishers turn their focus away from subscriptions

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Early on this year, Digiday+ Research predicted that publishers would depend less on subscriptions as a revenue driver as they moved further into 2024. According to surveys conducted among publisher professionals every six months (including in the first quarter), that prediction might be coming true.

Digiday’s surveys found that subscriptions aren’t the revenue driver they once were for publishers. (Subscriptions came in sixth out of 10 revenue sources ranked by Digiday just a few weeks ago.) Nearly half of publisher pros (44%) told Digiday in Q1 of this year that they don’t get any revenue from subscriptions, up significantly from the 26% who said the same just six months prior. In other words, the percentage of publishers who make at least a little revenue from subscriptions fell from 74% in Q3 2023 to 56% in Q1 2024.

Meanwhile, the percentage of publishers who make a large or very large portion of their revenue from subscriptions has been trending downward for the last year and a half. In Q3 2022, more than a quarter of publisher pros (27%) told Digiday that subscriptions accounted for a large or very large portion of their revenue. That percentage fell to 21% in Q1 2023, and fell significantly to 11% in Q3 2023 before hitting 7% in Q1 2024.

The publishers who said they get a large portion of their revenue from subscriptions (as opposed to a very large portion) account for most of the downward trend, Digiday’s surveys found. Seventeen percent of publishers said in Q3 2022 they got a large portion of their revenue from subscriptions, compared with 15% in Q1 2023, 11% in Q3 2023 and just 2% in Q1 2024.

Interestingly, more publishers said at the beginning of this year that they get a very large portion of their revenue from subscriptions than said they get a large portion from that source (5% compared with 2% — so still a very small percentage). At the same time, a very significant 40% said they only get a very small or small portion of their revenue from subscriptions as of Q1 2024 (with one-third, or 33%, saying subscriptions account for just a very small portion of their revenue and 7% saying they account for a small portion).

It seems as though publishers may be shifting to an acceptance that subscriptions are no longer a big revenue driver. Digiday’s surveys found that, when it comes to how much of a focus publishers are putting on building their subscriptions businesses, those who said they’re not focused at all on that accounted for the largest percentage in Q1 of this year. That marks the first time in over two years that publishers who said they put a large or very large focus on subscriptions haven’t made up the largest group.

In fact, the percentage of publisher pros who told Digiday they’ll put a large or very large focus on building their subscriptions business in the next six months has been trending downward since the beginning of 2022. Forty-four percent of publishers said subscriptions would be a large or very large focus for them in Q1 2022, compared with 43% in Q3 2022, 39% in Q1 2023, 37% in Q3 2023 and 30% in Q1 2024.

The percentage of publishers who said they’ll put a very large focus on growing subscriptions revenue, in particular, has contributed the most to this trend. Throughout 2022, the percentage of publishers who put a very large focus on subscriptions held fairly steady at 27% in Q1 of that year and 29% in Q3. However, it fell to just under a quarter (23%) in Q1 2023 before falling again to 15% in Q3 2023 and 9% in Q1 2024.

In contrast, the percentage of publisher pros who told Digiday they’re not focused at all on building their subscriptions business in the next six months has trended upward over the last year and a half. Just 14% of publishers said they weren’t at all focused on subscriptions in Q3 2022. By Q1 2023, that percentage rose over a quarter to 27%, before hitting a third (33%) in Q3 2023. In Q1 of this year, 41% of publisher pros said they’re not focused at all on subscriptions.

https://digiday.com/?p=540066

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