Publishers’ fear: ‘reluctance to innovate’

“What is the single most important risk to a news organisation’s future success?” Perhaps finding new business models? Nope. More disruption from the likes of Google and Facebook? Nope. A lack of trust from readers? Nope. According to our World News Publishers Outlook survey, most publishers say it is a “reluctance to innovate.”

by WAN-IFRA Staff | September 20, 2017

Of course all those other challenges, and others, play a major role and an impetus to innovate, but summing up the will and the strategy to “get moving” is apparently what concerns many publishing executives across the globe.

That is just one of the many findings from the just-published World News Publishers Outlook 2017 report.

WAN-IFRA published this report based on the results of the most recent annual survey of news media executives worldwide by Dr François Nel, who also wrote the report, and Dr Coral Milburn-Curtis of the Innovation Research Group, a partnership between researchers at the University of Central Lancashire and the University of Oxford.

The survey’s 22 questions looked at four areas:

  1. the profile of respondents, including the nature and activities of their firm;
  2. current revenue streams, financial performance during the past book year, and the anticipation of future revenue sources;
  3. specific priorities for change and investment in the next year and in the medium term (3-5 years); and
  4. how leaders experience change and risk.

The perspective of the report is truly global: the survey was available in 11 languages and received 235 responses from 68 countries across six continents: Africa, Asia, Australia/Oceania, Europe, North America, and South America.

The report can be downloaded ( by WAN-IFRA Members for free (charge for non-members). An executive summary is available free of charge.

Key takeaways from the report

  • When asked what is the single most important change that has to be implemented in their news organisations over the next year, the top response (21%) was Organisational Culture.
  • Although trading conditions are tough worldwide, 30 percent of nearly 250 decision-makers surveyed reported overall financial growth during the past financial year, while about 35 percent said there had been no change. This is the highest proportion of positive responses since the study began in 2009/10 in the wake of the global economic recession.
  • The outlook for the future success of media firms depends on the extent to which they can diversify their revenue streams. In the short term (next 12 months), 70 percent of respondents say they will need up to a third of their income to come from non-traditional sources (i.e. traditional advertising and existing content sales) to meet company revenue expectations.
  • That figure flips when asked to project into the medium term (3-5 years) – and nearly a quarter (24 percent) of all respondents expect more than half their income will need to come from new revenue streams.
  • An analysis of almost 250 responses by executives in 68 countries shows a statistically significant relationship between the innovation culture in firms and their financial performance. In fact, companies that prioritise innovation are more likely to report organisational and financial success compared with companies that don’t.
  • Leaders at successful firms make distinctly different choices about the 7 building blocks of an innovation culture than those at firms that report losses.
  • Meeting future revenue targets will require significant focus on innovation by news media leaders – who will increase their firm’s likelihood of success very significantly if they are effective Innovation Role Models themselves.
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