Reuters Institute reports revenue and confidence up for publishers

revenue increase

A survey of more than 240 senior publishing leaders from 52 countries shows revenue was up for a majority in 2021. Asked at the end of the year if their company’s total turnover had gone up, down or stayed the same, 59% said that it had gone up. Three-quarters said they are confident about their company’s prospects for 2022.

Annual trends report

The annual Journalism, media, and technology trends and predictions report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) shines a light on the issues keeping the world’s publishing executives up at night. From advertising and subscriptions to innovation and regulation, 2022’s 48-page report paints a picture of a publishing market in recovery.

  • Nic Newman, lead author on the report, said this year will be a year of ‘careful consolidation’ for an industry ‘disrupted and galvanised’ by the tribulations of the COVID-19 crisis. Journalists ‘burnt out’ by a relentless news agenda may be able to ‘take a breath’.
  • On the business side, one of the big surprises for Newman and his team was that broadly revenue was up. He said that this demonstrated the adaptability of an industry that had accelerated digital revenue streams including subscriptions, e-commerce and digital events over the past 18 months.
  • For all publishers, a key element in revenue growth has been the bounce back in digital advertising. Digital spend grew at its fastest rate ever in 2021 – 30% YOY according to GroupM. Highlighting the fact that digital advertising now accounts for 64% of all ad spend, Newman said: 

After a period where digital advertising revenue has leaked away to giant platforms, publishers have an opportunity to secure better results this year.

Revenue mix
  • The executives surveyed believed that, on average, establishing a mix of three or four different revenue streams will be important or very important this year. Display advertising featured prominently for 73% of respondents and native advertising for 59%.
  • Almost 80% said reader revenue will be at the top of their priority list for 2022, but close to half worry that subscriptions could exclude poorer audiences from quality journalism. An overwhelming majority of publishers – between 70% and 80% – will be investing more in podcasts and newsletters in 2022.
  • Publishers expect to pay less attention to once-dominant social distribution platforms Facebook and Twitter and focus instead on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube in the hope of reaching younger audiences. Three out of 10 respondents expect to get significant revenue from tech platforms for content licensing or from innovation funds.
Rising confidence

The majority of publishers surveyed – 73% – were optimistic about prospects for 2022. Despite traffic falls in some areas, there is a general sense that the Covid crisis has, at least to some extent, restored confidence in the value of journalism. A similar percentage is confident in the outlook for their own businesses.

Fewer respondents – 60% – were confident in the prospects for journalism more generally, citing concerns about polarisation among audiences, attacks on journalists and the free press, and the financial sustainability of local publications. Speaking specifically about the news market, Newman said:

A key challenge for the news media this year is to re-engage those who have turned away from news – as well as to build deeper relationships with more regular news consumers.

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