Digital transformation and innovation will dominate publishing trends in 2021

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It’s a brave person that makes firm predictions about 2021 after the year we’ve just had, but among the twists and turns of 2020 a recent survey from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has highlighted a clear focus on digital transformation and innovation in the coming 12 months.

The takeaways:
  • The shocks of 2020 highlighted the need for innovation, but survey respondents don’t expect ideas for change to come from senior management. Audience and data insights (74%), multi-disciplinary teams (68%), and learning from other media companies (48%) are considered the best ways to generate new ideas these days.
  • Revenue diversification continues to be important. The publishers surveyed said that, on average, four different revenue streams would be required for success in 2021. Digital subscriptions get the most attention, with ecommerce and virtual events next on the list.
Transformation and innovation are the new normal

Covid-19 pressed fast forward on digital transformation in 2020 and it looks unlikely that the pace of change will slow down in 2021. There were four main areas for change highlighted by the survey.

  • Remote working tools like Zoom and Slack have come to dominate working practises and publications from newspapers to magazines have been published successfully from staffers’ homes. The challenge for 2021 will be to move WFH setups from crisis mode to more sustainable hybrid models that support a mix of home and office working.
  • Delivering deep audience engagement, email newsletters and podcasts are expected to thrive in 2021. Growth in these revitalised formats is driven both by entrepreneurial successes on newsletter platforms like Substack or investment from major players like Spotify and Amazon in the podcast space.
  • With subscription software provider Zoura reporting subscriptions up 110% March to May 2020, growing digital subscription revenues was rated as important or very important by 76% of the digital leaders surveyed. Efforts in 2021 will be focused on retaining the paying readers that signed up during the pandemic.
  • With pause pressed on so much in 2020, publishers had very little to lose from experimentation. Rapid innovation will continue in 2021, although investment is likely to focus on improvements to established products – optimising and extending existing products and brands was highlighted as a priority by 70% of survey respondents.
The last word

Only 53% of respondents are confident in the state of journalism in 2021, with many worried by the impact of misinformation and the financial sustainability of smaller and local publications. But the digital digital leaders surveyed by Reuters are largely optimistic about 2021 in relation to their own businesses. More than 70% of those surveyed said they were confident about the prospects for their company in the coming year.

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