In early October, this contributor wrote about whether online news publishing was achieving sustained revenue growth, how broadly that growth is distributed across the media industry, and whether it will last. I’ve been watching and waiting for further financial announcements. The results for the quarter just ended now indicate a trend towards increased online revenue over previous periods. More important, it could indicate that online readers will pay for the sites, if the publication (not quite right to call it a “newspaper” anymore) is important to them. Here are some examples, based on industry e-newsletters Media Post and Digiday, along with the financial press releases of the publishers:

  • Trade group WAN-IFRA surveyed newspapers in 70 countries recently. It reported digital circulation revenues grew 300% from 2012-2016 across the survey population, the survey found, including a 28% year-over-year increase in 2016. In 2016, 30% of all newspapers’ digital revenues came from digital subscriptions and other forms of online reader payment, such as pay per article, or metered viewing. Together, print and digital circulation contributed over half (56%) of newspapers’ total revenues.
  • The UK based Guardian is now making more money from reader revenue including paid memberships and subscriptions than advertising revenue. Since February, paid subscriptions, also “supporting memberships” to the organization from 200,000 at the start of the period to 500,000 at present. This is recurring monthly revenue. One time contributions have gone from 100,000 to 300,000, for nine million dollars during the same time period. Half of those 300,000 contributions come from the U.S. The Guardian has assigned about fifty staff from editorial, marketing, product, engineering and U|X to the consumer revenue program. Analysis of more than a year of detailed data enabled them to detect patterns of behavior and likely interest across markets. The Guardian has been trying to expand its U.S. readership for years. Are the efforts finally succeeding?
  • The New York Times Co. had a second consecutive quarter of growth online that overcame the continuing decline in print. Total revenues increased 6% from $364 million in the third quarter of 2016 to $386 million in the same period this year, due to an 11% increase in digital ad revenues, to $49 million, and a 13.6% increase in subscription revenues. Revenue from digital-only subs was up 46%, reaching $86 million. This digital growth was enough to achieve better top line performance overall, not just reduce revenue declines due to print as in previous years. Newer, niche online subscriptions, such as the Cooking app and the venerable NYT crossword, earned 154,000 online subscribers. The familiar news subscription grew on net by 105,000. Across all categories, the newspaper now has 2,487,000 digital-only subscribers, up 59% from 1,563,000 in September 2016.
  • News Corp has newspaper properties in three countries. Overall the company reported that newspaper revenues were up two percent as gains in the US and Australia offset declines in Britain. The company publishes the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The Times and Sunday Times of London, The Sun and a number of Australian newspapers. The Wall Street Journal saw the number of digital subscribers increase to 1.3 million from 967,000 in the prior year. In Australia the company had 375,400 digital subscribers, up from 283,100 a year ago. The Times and Sunday Times saw its subscriber base rise to 212,000, compared to 181,000.

Less pleasant results have been reported by chain owned local and regional newspapers, though. Among US properties at least, digital ad and circulation growth is still not enough to offset print ad and circulation declines, so total revenue continues to shrink. It increasingly appears that online is working better for national and global news properties with long standing name recognition across geographic boundaries, while local sites still struggle.

But the publishers, whether succeeding at long last online or still trying to do so have to apply what they learn from detailed readership data, and try growing their readership base with a mix of offerings. This means spending on people and technology, experimenting, and adjusting based on what is learned. Consumers seem ready to pay for content that matters to them. Information doesn’t have to be free. The results described here bear this out.

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