The initial findings from the upcoming World Press Trends report, WAN-IFRA’s annual survey into news industry trends, were shared on Monday 29 November as part of the World News Media Congress 2021.
Although the analysis of the full survey results is still underway, Damian Radcliffe, Professor & Fellow at the University of Oregon, Columbia University, was already able to present a few early takeaways to the Congress participants. He will provide some of the core insights of this year’s edition, along with the data analysis by François Nel, Reader in Media Innovation at the Media Innovation Studio, University of Central Lancashire.
162 news executives from 58 different countries took part in the World Press Trends Outlook 2021 in September–October 2021. The full World Press Trends report will be published early next year and will include more details about the following findings, as well as many other topics.
Publishers face the future with optimism
One finding that stood out from the survey results was the positive outlook that publishers have about their future: Over 80 percent of respondents say they felt optimistic about their company’s business prospects over the next 12 months. The number is lower but only slightly for the next three years.
“Certainly, this was a surprise when you consider the fact that we are right in the heart of a pandemic, and there’s huge amounts of uncertainty about what’s going to happen to our lives over the course of the next few years,” said Radcliffe.
“Of course it’s a spectrum, but overwhelmingly the message from the survey respondents was that they think their company is well positioned to weather the storm and move forward.”
Industry’s digital transformation is well underway
One reason behind that optimism may be the confidence that the respondents have in their organisation’s digital transformation efforts: nearly half say these are either advanced or very advanced. Just over 12% feel that they were behind.
The picture gets slightly more nuanced when the respondents are divided into developing and developed countries, with respondents in developing markets reporting slightly less progress in terms of digital transformation.
Revenues: growth continues to come from digital
The survey respondents are positive about their outlook also in terms of revenues, and overall expect their businesses to grow both in 2021 and next year. Much of that growth is led by digital, with digital advertising and digital readership being the biggest areas of growth. Meanwhile, print revenues continue to decline gradually.
“At the same time, although we are seeing some diminishing returns, print remains incredibly important,” Radcliffe said, pointing out that most of publishers’ revenue still comes from print, either in terms of reader revenue or advertising.
“Even though those numbers are diminishing as an overall slice of the revenue pie, it is still incredibly significant.”
Revenue diversification set to accelerate
Beyond revenue from readers and advertising, this year’s data shows that events have become a highly important additional revenue source for a growing number of publishers.
“This is an area that has seen a lot of change over the course of the last 12 to 18 months, with the emergence of digital-only events, a slight move back to doing some physical events, and more recently a lot more hybrid event activity,” Radcliffe said.
Looking at the next 12 months, the results suggest that the share of new types of revenue in publishers’ revenue structure will continue to grow: in the next 12 months, the respondents expect nearly 21% of their overall revenue to come from other sources than readership or advertising.
Within the “Other Sources” category, respondents expect events to continue to be a significant growth activity, followed by partnerships with platforms and e-commerce.
Editorial the biggest cost category
For the second year running, the World Press Trends Outlook survey examined publishers’ cost structures, and editorial came on top again as the biggest area that news organisations are spending in, with a third of their costs being spent on content production.
“Perhaps this is not surprising, given the importance of content as a way to attract readers and to retain audiences,” Radcliffe said. “We’re probably going to continue to see investment in that space.”
Press freedom – a global issue
In terms of press freedom, the results of the global survey show that there is reason for concern across a range of countries and markets, as media and journalists are facing a wide variety of external interference that aims to obstruct their work.
“Our evidence shows that that clearly is the case among our survey respondents, with everything from cyber attacks to online harassment, physical harassment to government threats,” Radcliffe said.
“Although there are differences between countries and regions, overwhelmingly the message is clear: media houses and journalists all around the world are experiencing a myriad different attacks on their practice and on their ability to do their job”