Developing economies are leading the charge when it comes to revenue growth, investment in tech and content is more important than ever and there are some major press freedom challenges ahead. These are some of the most eye-catching trends identified in the latest survey by the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).
Carried out between July-September last year, the World Press Trends report features feedback from 167 news executives across 62 different countries, with WAN-IFRA describing the results as “sobering” in the wake of the raft of issues publishers have been contending with, including high levels of inflation, rising paper and print costs and ongoing changes to advertising markets.
“The impact of layoffs and significant changes at major tech companies, such as Meta and Twitter, may also have a knock-on effect on publisher strategies; most notably in terms of distribution and some potential revenue streams,” the report says.
“At the same time, publishers are continuing to invest in new revenue streams. Many of our survey respondents report that these investments are beginning to bear financial fruit. Publishers are balancing these efforts with the need to maintain their core revenue streams, often centred around print, while also recognising the need to double-down on investments in areas such as product development, R&D (including AI technologies), reader revenue and personnel.”
Short-term pain, long-term gain
The survey shows that, while more than half of respondents (55.4%) were “pessimistic” about the next 12 months, they were more optimistic about where they will be in a few years’ time. Levels of pessimism dropped to 46.4% (-9%) when survey participants were asked about the prospects for their business in three years.
Despite a pessimistic outlook, publishers were bullish about revenues for 2022. Revenue expectations were up with respondents anticipating revenues to grow by 16.4% vs. 2021. By comparison 2021, coming out of the early stages of the pandemic, survey participants projected revenues to increase by 7.3% year-on-year.
According to the survey, revenue growth is being led by developing economies. In 2021, publishers in these markets expected revenues to rise by 8%. That’s jumped to 24% year-on-year for 2022. In contrast, respondents from developed economies said they expected revenues to grow 12% in 2021. This drops to 8% for 2022.
When combined, print advertising and circulation generate more than half (53.5%) of the total income seen by the WAN-IFRA survey respondents but is down from last year’s report when it was at 56.1%.
Meanwhile, advertising revenue accounts for nearly half (47.7%) of their income. Reader revenue, across print and digital, is expected to bring in just over a third (35.8%) of earnings.
While advertising and reader revenues remain important, the fastest growing area for publishers is in “other categories” – a catch-all label that includes activities such as events, contract publishing and e-commerce.
The importance of content and tech
Publishers who took the online survey identified Investment in content and tech as key to success. Product development and R&D are the leading areas for investment with nearly nine in ten respondents (88%) indicating that the areas were important for their organisation to invest in.
As digital transformation efforts continue, AI is seen as the biggest game changer. Over two-thirds (69%) told WAN-IFRA that AI will have the biggest impact on their business in the next two to three years. This was followed by 5G (28%) and the Metaverse (16%).
Revenue streams are also a pressing priority: Reader revenue, advertising sales, and a focus on other revenue streams, were identified as important by 84%. Newsroom hiring was ranked next on our list, with 76% of respondents saying this was an important area for investment.
As digital transformation efforts continue, AI is seen as the biggest game changer. Over two-thirds (69%) told WAN-IFRA it will have the biggest impact on their business in the next two to three years, followed by 5G (28%) and the Metaverse (16%).
According to the survey news outlets continue to face major press freedom challenges: Six in 10 (60%) of respondents indicated that their employer had been a target of cyber-attacks, up from 45.7% in 2021.