From an impressive new milestone by The New York Times to the remarkable success of small local publications in Norway, FIPP’s latest Global Digital Subscription Snapshot, out this week, underlines the continued resolve of publishers during what has been some tumultuous times.
The quarterly Snapshots, exclusive to FIPP members, are the most comprehensive reports on the global digital subscriptions market today and features information on publishing titles that enjoy the support of over 52 million subscribers.
The latest Snapshot arrives at an inflection point for the publishing industry as its rift with big tech grows. Publishers who rely on referral traffic from social media and search engines, on the back of low-value, SEO- optimised content, have experienced an extremely difficult trading period in 2023.
With the latest survey by the Reuters institute showing referral traffic from Facebook has dropped 48% and from X/Twitter 27%, around three-quarters (77%) of those taking part in the Reuters study say they will focus more on their own direct channels in the next year, with 22% cutting costs and 20% experimenting with alternative third-party platforms.
Publishers are also facing a maturing subscription market and a public still trying to cope with the global inflation crisis, meaning talk of subscription fatigue and questions over whether consumers are willing to pay for more than one news subscription continue to swirl.
Yet, despite trying times, publishers across the world are finding ways chart a new, more sustainable business model as the latest Digital Subscription Snapshot shows.
New York state of mind
As expected, The New York Times’ lauded paywall strategy, first implemented in 2011, continues to be a roaring success with the company adding 210,000 net new digital subscribers in 2023 Q3 bringing its total digital-only subscriber base to 9.41 million and its overall subscription base to 10 million.
The results show the brand is right on track to achieve its objective of reaching 15 million subscribers by the end of 2027, with 40% of digital subscribers now subscribed to at least two of the company’s products and monthly revenue per digital subscriber up 4.6% year-on-year.
Meta has been celebrating reaching a milestone of 1 million paid subscribers for creator accounts on its Instagram platform and has also introduced a paid subscription service in the European Union, offering subscribers ad-free experiences on Instagram and Facebook.
Meanwhile, News Corp has continued to increase in the number of digital subscriptions across its news and information publishing business. Despite this growth, the company reported a modest 1% increase in revenue for the quarter and also reported a 4% rise in profitability, following consolidation and cost-cutting measures in 2023.
Going the right way in Norway
The Snapshot also explores how, in Norway, small local newspapers are outperforming their national counterparts in attracting new digital subscribers.
Newspapers with a circulation of less than 4000 have seen a 17.8% increase in digital subscriptions while national newspaper only went up by 2.8% during the same period.
Norway leads the way when it comes to the willingness of users to pay for news. According to the Reuters Digital News Report, 39% of Norwegians paid for online news in the past year, nearly double the global average of 17%.
And in Japan, the Nikkei Group has announced it has now reached 3.26 million subscribers across all its brands, making it, the company claims, the third-largest publisher by digital subscribers globally.
AI and subscriptions
The huge impact of artificial intelligence is felt throughout the Snapshot, from court cases to intriguing new launches.
The New York Times is suing OpenAI, the owner of ChatGPT, over claims of copyright infringement, alleging that the firm is liable for billions of dollars in damages. The lawsuit contends that OpenAI used millions of articles published by The New York Times to train its large language models without permission.
Meanwhile, Spotify is expanding its AI DJ feature – which acts as a personalised music guide, selecting new music a user might enjoy based on a user’s Spotify playlist – to 50 more markets.
Tencent continues to invest in new AI models, the company leveraging AI to enhance targeting capabilities in content and advertising. It has also released generative AI tools to advertisers for creating visuals for advertising material from text prompts.
The impact AI is having on newsrooms is clear at Newsquest where AI-assisted reporters is being hired for its titles, including Berrow’s Worcester Journal, one of the world’s oldest newspapers first published in 1690.
A ChatGPT-based tool is used by reporters to gather online content, which human journalists then refine into concise articles in the publisher’s style. The approach allows journalists more time for community engagement and investigative journalism.
The Snapshot’s round-up of the impact of AI also makes stopovers in France, Norway and Germany as Le Monde, Schibsted and Springer Nature integrate interesting new technologies into their operations.
Netflix surges in streaming wars
Streaming giant Netflix has showed strong growth, adding 8.8 million subscribers by cracking down on password sharing and introducing an ad-funded membership tier, which now accounts for 30% of sign-ups in countries where it is available.
Converting those who borrow Netflix into subscribers have exceeded expectations, contributing to a boost in operating income of 25% year-on-year. The company has now rolled out the initiative to stop password sharing in all markets.
Big rival Disney announced its streaming platforms added 7 million new subscribers, although the company faced steep losses in subscriber numbers at Disney+ Hotstar in India after losing cricket broadcasting rights earlies in 2023.
Paramount Global is going great guns thanks to an improvement in the performance of its Paramount + streaming platform, which added 2.7 million subscribers to reach a global total of 63 million.
Subscription revenue for the platform increased 46% to $1.3 billion, driven by subscriber growth and price hikes. The platform also saw viewing hours increase by 46%, which helped to drive advertising revenue up 18% at the streaming unit.
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