Key Strategies for Building Successful Audience Revenue and Engagement Programs: Report


Digital media publications struggled in 2017. The Facebook-Google Duopoly continued to rake in the lion’s share of advertising dollars. The much-hyped “pivot to video” strategy flopped as ads proved difficult to sell. While several online news companies fell short of their revenue targets, former media darling Mashable was sold for a fifth of the $250 million valuation it received the previous year.

It’s time to revisit revenue approaches once again. To help The Tow Center for Digital Journalism recently released the report “Guide to Audience Revenue and Engagement,” after carrying out hundreds of interviews with people involved with news sites, including their creation, operation, and consumption.

The 105-page report reveals these findings along with strategies that focus on how media organizations and entrepreneurs can develop revenue programs based on strengthening interactions with audiences.

The report’s main findings:

  • Digital news publications depend on a combination of revenue strategies, not simply direct revenue from audiences. They include advertising, affiliate programs, syndicated articles, funding from foundations, corporate underwriting, books sales, and merchandise. In some cases, such approaches take the place entirely of direct audience revenue programs.
  • Subscription strategies work well for publications that offer highly differentiated reporting as well as those with institutional audiences for which employers will pay for the work-related content.
  • A significant hurdle to building a lasting membership program is discovering interactions that benefit both the publication and the members.
  • Members want to join programs to become part of a bigger cause or something unique that the publication represents. They aren’t interested in branded merchandise or local discounts.
  • To attract members, news organizations must publish compelling “who we are” stories that reflect its mission and give readers a sense of its importance in the community.
  • The degree of editorial engagement a publication has with its members can have a significant impact on a revenue program’s sustainability.
  • Treat your approach to turning people into members as a stage in a conversion funnel: research, expose and attract, engage and deepen, convert and sustain.
  • Face-to-face interactions, newsletters, digital product design, and your particular brand of journalism are critical factors in strengthening audience engagement. Use data to influence how you target those in your audience.
  • Culture change is hugely important in developing news organizations that are audience and membership driven. Strong leadership is necessary to ensure and sustain two-way engagement between the publication and the audience.

Read the full report here.

Decline of News-on-paper: United States


Mapping the decline of news-on-paper

[Latest update: December 15, 2017]
The Newspaper Extinction Timeline, released in 2010, predicted that news-on-paper would become “insignificant” in the U.S. Read the Review of the Newspaper Extinction Timelinefor full context.

This page compiles some of the most recent available data on the state of news-on-paper in the U.S. Note that there are massive challenges to gaining an accurate current view of the state of news-on-paper.

  • The Newspaper Association of America (now renamed News Media Alliance) stopped providing detailed industry information in 2013.
  • Publicly listed news organizations have been largely very opaque in providing details on their print revenue and circulation.
  • Almost all so-called “newspaper circulation” figures available include both paper and digital formats. Most of the data below includes both paper and digital so does not provide real insight into the state of news-on-paper.

However the most important issue is NOT the decline of news-on-paper, but from the position we are in today how we can best create a positive future for the news industry over all channels.

More than a 1/3 of paid daily newspaper circulation has disappeared over 10 years

At the turn of the century, newspaper circulation in the United States rested at a relatively stable level of approximately 55 million copies a year. Nevertheless, ever since peaking in the late 1980s—hitting 62.82 million in 1987—the circulation of paid daily newspapers has consistently declined.

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]

Data sources: Editor & PublisherAlliance for Audited MediaPew Research Center  Chart source: statista

The pace of decline accelerated in 2004 (54.63 million), but not precipitously, resulting in a drop of more than 36% by 2016 (34.66 million). According to the last ten years of recorded data (2006-2016) supplied in the chart above, paid daily newspaper circulation sunk 34%.  

To take a closer look at the yearly circulation numbers, statista provides an interactive version of the chart above as well as multiple options for downloading the information.

2016 circulation for both Weekday and Sunday editions has plunged to the lowest figures since 1945

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]

Data sources: Editor & Publisher (through 2014); estimation based on Pew Research Centeranalysis of Alliance for Audited Media data (2015-2016). Chart source: Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center offers deeper insight into the decline of newspapers in the United States, providing separate circulation data for Weekday and Sunday daily newspapers. The center’s analysis shows that in 2016 both hit their lowest levels since 1945, with circulation figures of 35 million and 38 million respectively.

Advertising revenue dropped nearly two-thirds between 2005 and 2016, while circulation revenue rose slightly

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]

Data sources: News Media Alliance, formerly Newspaper Association of America, (through 2012); Pew Research Center analysis of year-end SEC filings of publicly traded newspaper companies (2013-2016). Chart source: Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center also analyzed advertising and circulation revenue for U.S. newspapers over a 60-year period starting in 1956. Although circulation earnings have gradually increased, total advertising revenue fell significantly between 2005 and 2016. During these 11 years, total advertising revenue for the industry plummeted by nearly two-thirds, decreasing from $49 billion to $18 billion. The bulk of advertising revenue still comes from print, compromising approximately 80% in 2011 and dropping to close to 70% in 2016.

We recommend the valuable Pew Reseach Center website on Journalism & Media, which is compiled from a variety of industry resources.

Print became the least popular news source in 2014, continuing to fall through 2017 down to 22% weekly consumption

Data and chart source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

From 2013 to 2017, the number of people who read print newspapers decreased by almost one-fifth. As the medium dropped out of favor, social media as a news source enjoyed a steady climb, with consumption growing by about 6% each year.

Each year since 2012, the Reuters Institute in partnership with the University of Oxford has released a digital news report offering insights into the transition to online news and its effect on the media landscape. Although the first report covered just five countries, the latest included survey data from 70,000 participants across 36 countries.

For people wanting to delve deeper and compare data between and within countries, we strongly recommend reading the latest report and using the interactive feature to create your own charts.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal are uniquely positioned to monetize print but its role is rapidly declining

The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal are distinct from other newspapers in the U.S. in that they are truly national and in fact arguably global “newspapers of record”. All three have made a concerted and successful shift to digital subscriptions and advertising. However, their role means that the role of print in their business models continues to be solid.

These uniquely successful news organizations recognize that they may not continue indefinitely on print. New York Times’ CEO Mark Thompson says in an interesting interview in Nieman Lab on when to stop the presses forever:

“The print product is a mature platform. It is, as you say, an economically important platform to us. It’s possible that platform will plateau. I think it’s more likely that the platform will eventually go away. It’ll go away because the economics will no longer make sense to us or our customers.”

Weekly community newspapers are severely challenged but are likely to have further life

There remain many newspapers across the US, primarily weekly, with small circulations but advertising revenues that are sometimes not eroding as fast as larger newspapers due to their highly geographically focused audiences and unique content.

Data source: Editor & Publisher, American Press Institute, Columbia Journalism Review

An excellent report from Columbia Journalism Review’s Tow Center on Small-market newspapers in the digital age provides strong insights into the state of the sector and some of the ways community newspapers are successful responding to change.

Since September 2005, employment in the U.S. newspaper industry has dropped by more than half

Note: Shaded areas represent recession, as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Data and chart source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

U.S. Newspaper employment:
January 1990: 455,000 (62% decline since this date)
January 2010: 260,800 (33% decline since this date)
September 2016: 173,700

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides the above chart in an interactive format. Users can explore the data further by hovering their cursors over the lines representing the different information industries or by clicking on the “Chart Data” tab to view it in a table format.

NOTE: “Newspaper employment” includes staff working on both print and digital editions, a fraction of these figures work

6 Key Strategies Media Companies Need to Prosper in the Future News Industry


One of the most striking trends in 21st century innovation is the significant potential for media to create value on a global scale.

Media, in all its forms, is fuelling economic growth, structural change, and technological advances like never before. As society debates the role and influence of media in a “post-truth” world, it is increasingly apparent that the future of media is crucial to shaping the future of humanity.

Media futurist Ross Dawson shared useful insights on how to create a vibrant future for media organizations in his keynote at the #SchibstedNext 2016 event held by Schibsted Media Group. You can see the video of the full keynote below.

Despite the widespread changes impacting the global media industry, Dawson pointed to the enduring and insatiable human appetite for information in a multichannel media world.

“Arguably the entire economy is becoming based on media, the creation of messages, the flow of messages, and where they are going,” Dawson said.

Here are six key ways in which media organizations can empower themselves to create their own future, drawn from Dawson’s talk at #SchibstedNext.

1. Create a compelling vision

“The best way to predict the future of media is to create it,” Dawson told the media leaders assembled in Oslo. For today’s media organizations, achieving a successful transition to tomorrow hinges on understanding “who it is we can be, who it is we want to be, moving forward”.

Forging a compelling vision for your media organization and communicating it effectively is vital for staff to adapt to the merging of technology and humanity, Dawson said, in an era when “technology is more and more capable, taking more and more of who we are”.

Without a clear strategic vision, companies are more likely to be blinded by past successes and overpowered by technological change. As the report of the 2020 group for the New York Times recently put it:

“To do nothing, or to be timid in imagining the future, would mean being left behind.”

2. Translate experimentation into value creation

Today, in the space of a day, you can test an idea, see how people respond, and develop it further. This has become a fundamental capability of every organization in the entire media industry.

“Revenue is highly uncertain, so you need to be able to experiment,” said Dawson. “For every experiment you should know what you want to learn, and when you learn that, you will be able to design the next experiment.”

Dawson referred to a basic test-and-learn model favored by entrepreneurs and outlined in The Lean Startup by Eric Ries: come up with an idea, put it into action, learn from that, iterate, and turn it into a result. “You can learn from others, absolutely, but you need to be able to create your own guidebook,” Dawson added.

Part of converting experimentation into value creation is a focus on community: “Being able to connect people, define what it is that’s common between them…to be able to create media which is relevant to all of those people, and to be able to filter that…to the individual…across many news or media organizations.”

3. Make the most of human and machine intelligence

Alongside advances in algorithms and the proliferation of convenient, high-tech user interfaces, robots and amateurs are now making music, art, video, and journalism in ways that were once limited to professionals. Dawson offered advice on how media organizations must respond:

“I believe that in the last 20 years, one of the most important things is how technology has enabled our creativity. If we are looking for the best media, we must bring together the professionals—who have the expertise and the context—with the amateurs, with all of us, with the many that are enabled by technology to create new possibilities.”

Optimizing both human and machine intelligence will become increasingly critical to value creation as organizations collect ever more data and achieve new milestones in consumer knowledge and engagement.

4. Ensure a clear and dynamic platform strategy

As existing and emerging media platforms vie for our attention, a solid understanding of platforms and their relationship to value creation is essential to steer media towards a positive future.

The best platform strategies, in Dawson’s view, are dynamic and user driven: “How is it you create value for participants? That’s the fundamental aspect of a platform,” he said. “Designing value for the participants in ways that they can create that together.”

In order to maximize value for participants across platforms, Dawson highlighted the role of data analysis, signal monitoring, user feedback loops, and collaboration with both internal and external platform creators.

5. Build on your existing capabilities and transcend their boundaries

A focus on transcending the boundaries has underpinned recent innovations in the media world, including the immersive virtual reality smartphone app available from the New York Times.

Media organizations must continue to think beyond the boundaries—such as print, broadcast, and even digital—if they are to create more compelling experiences for the audiences of tomorrow. Dawson elaborated:

“You need to be able to say, what are our capabilities today? What are we great at? What are we distinct at? What are we world-class at? What is it that we are going to build on? As organizations and individuals you need to be able to map your path and capability development moving forward.”

In order to transcend the boundaries and promote innovation, media brands are learning “to actually live what they are doing so that the messages that flow outside represent who they are,” said Dawson. This involves building the flow of communication and transparency internally in ways that mirror the external values and perceptions of a brand.


6. Foster bold and agile leadership to create your own future

Even as user participation in media continues to flourish, Dawson reminded the Schibsted audience that strong leadership remains crucial, because the future of media “is not a spectator sport.” As the Law of Requisite Variety makes clear, only those organizations that are as flexible as their environment will have the power to be able to create the future.

Therefore, leaders’ ability to put a bold vision into action, to push out the boundaries and set new standards for media will be crucial to success in the industry going forward. This is especially important because, at its core, the future of media “is an experiment,” Dawson believes.

“There is no roadmap to be able to say, this is exactly where the future of media is going. You need to create that. For your individual organization, it is going to be a different answer.”

Mobile Adblock Usage Surges in Asia-Pacific and Could Also Explode in North America and Europe, Warns Report


Mobile devices running adblockers have overtaken desktop adblocker usage globally due to their rapid adoption in Asia during 2016, according to a recent report from Page Fair. The company often releases data recognized as reputable; however, it notably also sells anti-adblocker technology to publishers.

According to the report, devices with mobile adblockers increased by 108 million from December 2015 to December 2016 internationally, reaching 380 million in total. This represented 62% of the adblock software that was run worldwide on 615 million devices.
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However, the practice was highly centralized in Asia-Pacific, where 94% of global mobile adblock usage occurred and grew by 40% over the previous year.

(click to expand)

The study also offers country breakdowns for desktop, mobile, and overall adblock penetration. Indonesia stood out in particular for running adblockers on 58% of mobile devices and 8% on desktops. Next came India with 28% and 1% respectively.

Figures reveal a much different story for the rest of the globe. In both the United States and the United Kingdom, only 1% of mobile users in each country used adblockers. Desktop adblock usage was 18% and 16%, respectively. Further ad market data by region and country is shown in the charts below.

While the use of mobile adblockers remains low in Europe and North America, Page Fair warns are no obstacles preventing equally quick growth in these regions.

“Mobile adblock usage is spreading rapidly due to partnerships between adblocking browsers and device manufacturers & distributors,” states the report. “Mass adoption in North America and Europe will continue organically, but may accelerate unexpectedly if manufacturers or distributors close deals to pre-configure adblock software.”

The effectiveness of adblockers

Some online publishers have begun fighting back against adblocking by making readers turn them off before entering the full site. However, the report states that this strategy generally doesn’t work. From a survey of adblock users in the United States carried out in November 2016, they found that 90% had encountered an adblock wall. However, 74% of them said they leave websites in such cases, with older Internet users and men more likely to abandon a site.


“Adblock walls are ineffective at motivating most adblock users to disable their adblock software, even temporarily. Unless the website in question has valued content that cannot be obtained elsewhere, an adblock wall is likely to be ineffective at combatting adblock usage at any significant rate,” said the report.

Notably, adblock users don’t reject all ad formats. 77% of those surveyed said they find some formats permissible. For example, 52% said they prefer static banners, but 35% prefer skippable ads. Nearly a third said they disliked non-skippable video ads, and nearly a quarter were against auto-play audio ads.

“Interruptive ad formats are the primary cause of user frustration, while non-interruptive formats, such as static banner ads, are broadly accepted,” concluded the report.

These statistics reveal that adblock users are largely concerned with a seamless user experience. Encountering an adblock wall and being asked to disable it, in itself, is viewed as an annoying interruption and doesn’t appear to be winning over frustrated news consumers.

Currently, we are also seeing tension between publishers and platforms like Facebook, with the latter having more influence on what news items people see. As more and more people rely on social media platforms for media content, particularly millennials, the issue is particularly salient.

Facebook has succeeded with technology that serves ads on the blocked web. A solution going forward may be publishers creating their own closed platforms. If they can’t produce enough unique content to garner digital subscriptions, at least they can combat adblockers and focus on offering advertising that doesn’t bother consumers in an environment they can control.

Image sources: Page Fair

A Review of Successful Micropayment Platforms


Micropayment platforms that allow people to buy individual news stories for 10, 20, or 50 cents are finally reaching the mainstream after about 20 years of development hell.

Blendle and Winnipeg Free Press offer two successful micropayment systems that might prove the model works.

Both are effective in terms of delivery, but more importantly, they’ve found the right markets and the right zeitgeist to turn a long-time vision into a profitable reality.

Blendle, a Dutch app often called “the iTunes of news,” has wooed more than half a million users since launching in 2014, making it the current benchmark.
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Users put money on their accounts and use it to buy stories from a variety of established publications for about 20 cents each. The idea is to “blend” articles to create a personalized newspaper or magazine.

Blendle looks like it’s here to stay and grow. The company has promised to enter the US. sometime in 2016, where it will apparently stock articles from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other established American newspapers.

Right place…

Blendle’s entry into the US will be a crunch moment for micropayments.

The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium, which make up Blendle’s main market, have a combined population of barely 100 million, but also boast four languages and far more localized news issues than the US.

Blendle originally offered articles from 56 European publications, which would barely register in America’s saturated media landscape, but immediately gave it a presence in Europe’s highly localized news market.

A focus on smaller markets is a key link between Blendle and Winnipeg Free Press, another micropayment success story.

The print edition of the Winnipeg Free Press has been published consistently since 1872 and continues to print six days a week. Its hometown, the capital of the Canadian province of Manitoba, has a population of about 700,000.

The publication launched a bespoke micropayment system in July 2015 and by December had exceeded its revenue and readership goals.

It’s notable that these two successful micropayment platforms both started with a manageable, localized market. It’s not the whole story, but it could be a lesson for developers who think they’ll immediately sweep through a saturated market like the US or the UK.

…right time

Another link between Blendle and Winnipeg Free Press is their relative youth. It’s not just about learning from previous mistakes, but riding the current wave of interest in micropayment platforms.

The concept of micropayments for news emerged in the 1990s, but when the impact of Internet publishing became clear, the hastily accepted wisdom was that paywall models were the future, not micropayments.

The cycle seems to have turned, with a number of publishers turning away from paywall models. News publishers are searching for a new commercial model and they might see it in the current wave of micropayment platforms.

Micropayments allow news consumers to “impulse buy” an individual story without signing up for a yearly subscription.

When printed newspapers dominated, consumers might have paid $2 for one day’s newspaper just because they were particularly interested in the news that day.

Subscriptions force consumers to pay more upfront. They also demand that consumers commit to a publication. Not many consumers can afford to juggle multiple subscriptions that might cost thousands of dollars in total.

Enthusiasm doesn’t mean success for micropayment platforms

In terms of delivery, one link between Blendle and Winnipeg Free Press is the offer of refunds for individual articles.

This feature is clearly a tool to reassure consumers who might be skeptical. (Winnipeg Free Press also allows users to choose a traditional subscription rather than micropayments.)

But it also appeals to consumers’ willingness to pay for news. It assumes that users won’t ask for a refund on everything and therefore pay nothing.

The success of micro-donation platforms such as Flattr and Tipsy shows that news consumers can be altruistic. One German news website reportedly made more than EUR6000 from Flattr in 2014.

Like Flattr and Tipsy, Blendle and the Winnipeg Free Press are the result of a belief that consumers will pay for news in the right circumstances. Unlike so many failed micropayment startups, however, they’ve tempered this optimism with commercial caution.

Blendle didn’t go live until it had 56 publications signed on. Winnipeg Free Press relied on a pre-existing consumer and production base, rather than building a platform as a third party and waiting for news producers to join in.

The key lessons here could be the importance of a manageable target market and an acknowledgment that consumers need convincing.

Micropayment platforms are a teasing prospect. The major lesson so far is they require groundwork, timing, and a pinch of luck—familiar ideas to any entrepreneur. It’s been a long road, but mainstream success could be right around the corner.

Image Sources: Modern Wall Street, Archives of the Winnipeg Free Press