WAN-IFRA World Press Trends Outlook: Digital transformation in the driver’s seat

2021-04-21. One of the many silver linings of the pandemic for publishers has been the ability of their organisations to adapt quickly to this changing environment. For many, this meant speeding up their digital transformation efforts. In its just-published World Press Trends Outlook report, publishers told WAN-IFRA that accelerating their digital transformation strategy was the most important change to make.

by Vincent Peyrègne | April 21, 2021

This year’s edition of World Press Trends to allowed publishers to give us their latest insights and data on 2020 and their focus on the year ahead, as well as collecting the latest data from our partners, national associations and other sources. Much of the report is based on a comprehensive survey sent to publishers in the late fall focusing on the impact of the pandemic, their forecasts for this year and beyond, and insights on their strategies moving forward.

For the YoY performance indicators, we present our best estimates considering this rather unpredictable situation. As we have learned over the years with World Press Trends, global figures tell one story, but they don’t always describe the experiences of individual publishers in different markets. In 2020, that’s perhaps more true than ever.

Here are some of the key findings from the report.


  • 44% of respondents said accelerating their digital transformation strategy was the most important change they needed to make moving forward.
  • “Digital transformation” is an overarching strategy for most companies but the specifics of that are increasingly audiences-first, reader revenue, data and product dev. It is no coincidence that the three next most important changes for 2021 mirror those of top investment plansaccelerating reader revenue plans, the same for data analytics, and more tech investment.
  • News executives don’t consider the short-term impact of the pandemic as the biggest risk to their organisation’s future success. Instead, the respondents to our survey say their organisation’s greatest threats are the ongoing decline of news publishers’ share of the advertising market, 30.6%, (in which the pandemic plays a key role naturally) and their organisation’s inability to diversity revenues (21%).

2020 results and pandemic

  • 43% of respondents from our WPT Publishers Outlook survey said their revenues declined by more than 20% “in the last 12 months”; another 7% said theirs declined by more than 10%.
  • On average, overall revenue was down by 11%, publishers reported.
  • However, 17% of publishers reported an increase in revenues last year, according to our Outlook survey, with 11% actually saying revenues were up more than 20%.
  • Digital circulation revenue has been a positive development for many news organisations as publishers report a 26.9% YoY increase in 2020. While that figure is impressive, it’s worth noting that globally the industry is still predominantly dependent on advertising and print revenue: Digital circulation revenue makes up just 6.1% of publishers overall revenue (core revenue streams).
  • According to our Outlook survey, 65% of publishers believe their business will fully recover from the pandemic; 35% don’t.
  • Nearly 60% of publishers (Outlook) say their staff will either work from home or have the option to work from home going forward. Only 5% of our respondents expect to move everyone back to the office and 16% believe they’ll use less real estate going forward.
  • For the first time in our survey, we asked publishers to share their general cost allocation across the business, and editorial was the single largest expense, accounting for just over a third of all costs (33.5%). Print production costs make up just 21.4%.


WAN-IFRA embers can download the report for free here. Non-members interested in purchasing the report can contact:

That is just some of the findings. WAN-IFRA’s World Press Trends database features historical data dating from 2005-2017. We would like to thank our technology partner, Protecmedia, for their generous support of this project. We also appreciate the collaboration of our data partners, input from publishers and national associations, and all analysts who contributed to this report.

Media Contact

Inquiries: Dean Roper, Director of Insights & Editor-in-Chief, WAN-IFRA

Vincent Peyrègne

Vincent Peyrègne took up duties as Chief Executive Officer of WAN-IFRA in 2012. Prior to joining WAN-IFRA, he was Head of Development at Edipresse in Switzerland with responsibility for audience insights and editorial marketing research and product development, before joining the office of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication as senior adviser to the Minister.

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