Why COVID-19 has made reader revenue more important than ever

1 June 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected publishers in so many ways, from having to deal with print distribution issues to ensuring that content can be delivered digitally. In particular, though, we’ve seen dramatic changes when it comes to subscriptions and the importance of reader revenue.
Several reports have indicated a rise in subscription numbers in both Europe and the US since the beginning of the pandemic. Piano released a report showing that subscription acquisition was up 18% in Europe and 15% in the US since the beginning of March. The same report showed total new subscriptions increased in March and April compared with January and February by 122% in Europe and 64% in the US.
A dramatic loss in revenue from advertising and events, in particular, has meant reader revenue is more important than ever.
A recent report by INMA summed the current situation up well;
“Multiple factors have come together in a matter of weeks to fundamentally reshape the publishing landscape in ways that may yet prove permanent. Advertising revenue has collapsed, with market sectors heavily dependent on travel or face-to-face events being amongst the hardest hit economically and the fastest to pull marketing spend.
Physical copy sales are under intense pressure, as much of the world’s population is not commuting and may not even be allowed out of the house for much of the week. Events businesses have essentially ceased operating for the time being and face a hibernation of uncertain length, starving publishers of another revenue source.”
In our latest webinar we explored some of the ways publishers have adapted their subscription strategies.
Newsquest Media Group, a UK publisher of regional and local newspapers introduced an online subscription to the website of all its regional dailies via a ‘part-paywall’.  Subscribers will be able to gain access to all articles and will benefit from an 80% reduction in advertising across their websites.
The Telegraph offered all NHS staff members a free 6-month subscription, whilst Grazia magazine paid tribute to NHS staff with a dedicated special issue featuring NHS workers on the cover. Digital downloads of their special edition were free to download for NHS workers.
Many publishers enabled readers to access Coronavirus content for free or completely removed paywalls. However, the Boston Globe did not unlock their COVID-19 content and have actually seen a significant rise in subscriptions over the past couple of months. According to a report, they increased their digital subscriber base from 145,000 before the pandemic to 205,000 in early May. They adopted a similar approach taken by many European publishers in which they offered a low-cost trial subscription to entice new subscribers.
It’s evident and clear to see that readers are willing to pay for quality content, especially in these unprecedented times. In the coming weeks and months, as many countries begin to return to a sense of normality, it will be interesting to see if these trends continue.
INMA summed up their report by saying; “Reader revenue models based on memberships, subscriptions, or paywalls are holding up best of all the revenue streams in the age of coronavirus”.