Publisher strategies: Condé Nast, Forbes, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The Independent on key revenue trends

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 →

This is the second installment of Digiday’s two-part series on how publishers are optimizing revenue streams. The first installment focused on publishers’ subscriptions and events businesses.

After a volatile 2023 in which publishers’ revenues were less lucrative than expected and the media industry witnessed an ongoing cycle of layoffs, publishers are placing their bets on both traditional and alternative revenue streams in 2024. Digiday recently spoke with executives at Condé Nast, Forbes, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The Independent about their current revenue strategies. What follows are their thoughts on key revenue trends in the industry, including affiliate commerce, diversification of revenue streams and global business expansion.

Affiliate commerce — publishers are all in or not in at all

A year ago, publishers were showing more interest in pursuing affiliate commerce as a revenue source. However, affiliate commerce saw the biggest drop in share of publishers’ revenue between 2023 and 2024, according to a recent Digiday+ Research survey. In the first quarter of 2023, nearly two-thirds of publisher professionals (62%) said affiliate commerce accounted for at least a very small portion of their revenue, but by the first quarter of 2024 less than half (45%) said the same. The publishers Digiday spoke with for this report offered a wide range of thoughts on the importance of affiliate commerce marketing, from being heavily invested in the tactic to not investing in it at all.

“It’s a tiny fraction of our revenue. We just published a big list of the best novels of the century. … We’ll get revenue, but it’s a rounding error in our numbers right now. I’d love for it to be big … but we’re not going to turn down the money. We work in media. We don’t turn down money.”  — Nicholas Thompson, CEO, The Atlantic

“It is something that we’ve invested in for many years now, and we have our own sub-brand e-commerce platform called IndyBest, which is the best of ‘X’ category. We’ve built a nice, tidy little business, effectively promoting lists that drive links. We’ve also got direct affiliate relationships with all of the big providers, such as Amazon. … Above that, we sell what we call tenancies — branded content pieces that are directly affiliated around products.” — Andy Morley, CRO, The Independent

“Forbes Vetted, our e-commerce platform, ranks the best products and services out there in the consumer space, which a lot of other publishers are doing. A lot of what we do every day is [ask] how do we diversify the mix? We also think about how we are making the brand valuable and bringing that value to our consumers. … We’re really intentional through that funnel of marketing of not overwhelming [consumers] and delivering the right product at the right time to the right consumer.” — Sherry Phillips, CRO, Forbes

“For us, there’s been this evolution. If you go on Vogue Shopping, specifically, it has a user experience that mimics a Net-A-Porter in that you have the full journey of a content-led experience and then a product-catalog experience. And being able to take a consumer from inspiration to purchase within Vogue’s owned and operated environment in such a graceful way is really, for us, an amazing evolution.” — Craig Kostelic, chief business officer of global commercial revenue, Condé Nast

“In the U.K. there was a cost of living crisis last year, so everyone in the affiliate game, because it’s direct to consumer, found that harder. There’s only so much great SEO work you can do to make sure you have the best possible Black Friday because if Black Friday sales are down by 30%, it doesn’t matter how good your SEO is. … So, we diversified and we looked at bigger deeper relationships in the e-commerce space.” — Andy Morley, CRO, The Independent

“It’s not really a space that we play in presently, so it’s not a part of our growth strategy yet.” — Nataki Williams, senior vp of finance, The Guardian US

Diversifying revenue streams is top of mind

Between the rise of AI, the lack of subscription growth and a challenging ad market in 2023, publishers are focusing more on diversifying their revenue streams this year. The push to diversify revenue has already seen many traditional media and publishing companies add e-commerce channels to their revenue streams, while others are turning to syndication and external product partnerships that target niche audiences.

“We’re a quality news brand with an audience that have a high disposable income and like the nice things in life, so it seemed crazy to us that we didn’t have a wine partner. We’ve built a fantastic white-label relationship to have our own independent wine club. That’s proving to be a real money spinner for us. As that e-commerce relationship grows, that diversification into those bigger, more strategic brand partners, is going to be really important for us.” — Andy Morley, CRO, The Independent

“We’re working with partners on the advertising side to create a retail-media-like offering where you have affiliate content experiences that create inspiration … product UX experiences that make it easy to search, discover and navigate. Whether that’s video and display advertising on owned and operated — social being a huge component leveraging things like the Vogue handle to take clients’ assets or co-create assets that are also going to live in the inspirational affiliate content or in the product pages. All of our brands have always been known for driving culture and desire, and it’s through our evolved commerce strategy and collaborations like the Allure Storefront with Amazon Beauty that we are creating new revenue streams. We are evolving our distribution and measurement offerings that sharpen the connection between desire and purchase.” — Craig Kostelic, chief business officer of global commercial revenue, Condé Nast

“It’s not one business versus the other. Our story very much is about diversification, which is the priority, and we work very closely on optimally allocating across all businesses to provide them the bandwidth that they need to grow. Understanding the user needs and loyalty feeds almost all parts of the business, and helps us unlock the business value of Forbes.” — Taha Ahmed, chief growth officer, Forbes

“When we were growing as a digital business, we didn’t see any enemies in the [content syndication] ecosystem. … Some publishers looked at Facebook Instant Articles and thought, there’s danger there. I don’t want to see my IP [intellectual property]. It feels like I don’t have control. We leaned in big and we made a lot of money. … We found some wonderful partners around the globe from the size of Microsoft and Apple, which have been amazing syndication partners both for driving our audiences but also driving our revenues, all the way through to some of the smaller independent companies like SmartNews and NewsBreak. It’s just another way of leaning into the ecosystem effectively to make sure that your content is connecting with the maximum amount of people.” — Andy Morley, CRO, The Independent

Global revenue opportunities expand thanks to social media and e-commerce

Two of the publications Digiday spoke with for this report, The Independent and The Guardian, are headquartered in London, while Condé Nast is a global mass media company based in New York City. Executives from all three organizations mentioned the importance of crossing international borders to expand their revenue streams. The Guardian and The Independent are looking to increase their overall U.S. presence, while Condé Nast sees an opportunity to market local editorial events to a mass audience.

“Condé Nast, with brands like GQ and Vogue, is one of the only ad-supported media companies that can show up to any global market and instantly create connection and desire with local audiences. We have a huge opportunity with live experiences like Vogue World which can be activated in a market like Paris and can draw global talent and distribute across a huge global network of platforms. You can do a single production that can create working media opportunities for marketers in every market where their product is available to a consumer.” — Craig Kostelic, chief business officer of global commercial revenue, Condé Nast

“This past year we had a large increase in our U.S. staff base. The next two years is [about] focusing on getting the new people, the new verticals and the new teams up and working … but, we are at a really exciting part of our growth phase in the U.S. where we’re starting to feel the fruits of all of the labors over the last few years. … It is now really taking that momentum, even in a challenging market, and trying to maintain that momentum and expand and broaden both brand awareness and overarching awareness in the U.S. market. — Nataki Williams, senior vp of finance, The Guardian US

“We’re right in the foothills of migrating from a brand in the U.S. to a .com brand. Until we’ve fully evolved and fully migrated 100% of our U.S. business to .com, it’s going to be really difficult for us to see the total opportunity that e-commerce represents for us in the U.S., but … we’ve begun to have some conversations with U.K. partners that operate in the U.S. and U.S.-centric partners. We’re already beginning to make more money in the U.S. on e-comm than we’ve ever made before. So, that switch over to .com is going to supercharge that business.” — Andy Morley, CRO, The Independent

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