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What can publishers take away from 2021?

Via Unsplash

Last year might have been better than the COVID-19 catastrophe that was 2020, but it still wasn’t business as usual. Media-verification organisation the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) has asked its clients to reflect on the challenges of 2021 and share the lessons they will take with them into 2022.

The positives
  • Founded in 1914 as the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), AAM asked its publishing customers to reflect on their experiences in 2021. With clients in print and digital news and magazine publishing, the survey highlights the long-term changes – good and bad – that media organisations saw settle in 2021 and expect to continue into next year.
  • One of the most positive observations from the survey was the general benefit felt from the flexible working practices that developed in the earliest days of the pandemic. Three quarters of respondents saw an increase in remote working as one of the year’s bright spots. Almost two thirds said they had experienced more flexibility in their working day.
  • With regard to revenue, 66% of survey respondents said their publication had seen an increase in digital subscriptions despite fears that reader engagement would tail off following the pandemic’s peak. Lockdown inspired online events also settled in as a new revenue line, with one respondent saying: “We created a new line of virtual events that will serve us well in many markets in the future.”
The negatives
  • Undercutting the benefits of newly added digital revenue streams, some legacy income lines continued to take a hit in 2021. A decrease in print subscriptions was reported by 61% of respondents and 68% said they had lost advertising clients.
  • Increased flexibility from remote working was also offset by an increase in employer expectations – 39% of survey respondents said their work responsibilities increased in 2021. This may in part be due to difficulty in ‘onboarding and training’ new hires, a situation exacerbated by a widely reported increase in retirements and resignations.
  • The ‘Great Resignation’ as it has become known saw 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November 2021. Reasons for the increased rate of resignations are varied, from health concerns to wage inflation, but whatever the reason, almost 40% of the respondents to AAM’s end-of-year survey had seen a rise in resignations and retirements. Just 23% said they hadn’t been impacted.
Summing up 2021

Given the opportunity to describe 2021 in one word, AAM’s publishing clients could have been speaking for the rest of us in summing up a strange, but possibly more hopeful year. Single-word descriptors highlighting a tough 12 months included ‘weird’, ‘stressful’ and ‘challenging’. Others underlined the ongoing transformation that publishing is experiencing – ‘pivot’, ‘adapting’ and most popular of all ‘changing’.

Looking ahead to 2022, some of the professional goals expressed see the pressure for change carrying on. Alongside the usual commercial objectives of growing audience and building revenue, publishers expect to have to:

  • Enhance and grow digital products
  • Keep up with new trends and technologies
  • Embrace change

But of all the professional goals listed, my personal favourite, because it is relevant to us all regardless of the year, is to ‘hang in there’.

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