However, publishers still need to navigate considerable transformation and turmoil, even if there are signs of a resurgence in global advertising markets and a maturing of many reader revenue strategies. The invasion of Ukraine has further undermined companies’ plans, as how that conflict will unfold can have long-lasting effects on industries across the board, in addition to the humanitarian crisis it is causing.
As in the previous years, the World Press Trends Outlook analysis is based on an online survey distributed to industry leaders. 162 news executives from 58 countries took part in the survey in Fall 2021 – a big thank you to them for sharing their insights, results and strategies.
In addition, WAN-IFRA works with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and ZenithOptimedia for key performance indicators (revenue, circulation and ad spend). For additional audience insights, we work with analytics specialist Chartbeat.
Here are some of the key findings and charts from our new 2021–22 research. WAN-IFRA Members can download the full report here.
An industry confident about its future
The message is clear: news publishing executives are decisively upbeat about their companies’ future prospects. Across our full sample, over 80% indicated they are optimistic about the next 12 months. This number only dropped marginally (by 3%) when asked to rate their prospects for the next three years.
Although publishers’ outlook is generally positive, some differences arise when the respondents are categories based on countries, with respondents in developed economies tending to be more optimistic: 87% of survey participants in developed markets have a positive view of the next 12 months, compared to 76.5% in developing economies.
Organisational transformation is well underway
One reason behind that optimism may be the confidence the respondents have in their organisation’s digital transformation efforts: nearly half say these are either advanced or very advanced; just 10.9% feel they are behind their peers.
However, the largest single group (40% of responses) indicated that digital transformation was “emerging,” recognising that while there has been progress, these efforts are far from complete.
The picture is somewhat 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.
Digital the biggest source of revenue growth
Generally, the responding executives expect their businesses to grow in 2022: survey participants in developing markets anticipate that their revenues will grow by 19.1%, compared to an average of 12.1% in developed countries. Much of that growth is led by digital, with digital advertising and digital readership being the biggest areas of growth in the last 12 months.
While revenues coming from print activities continue to decline gradually, print advertising and print circulation combined still generate over half of the respondents’ total income. Revenue from non-advertising and readership sources grew by 4.7% last year, accounting now for 13.2%.
As for the next 12 months, publishers expect almost a half (46.8%) of their income to come from advertising revenues – perhaps thanks to the record-breaking bounce back that ad markets were projected to see in 2022.
Data and R&D core areas for investment
As for investing in the future, data analytics and product development were identified by our survey respondents as the most important areas to invest in. On the other hand, publishers were most likely to divest in print production and senior management development. Between the two extremes, there were only small variances in the other major investment areas.
Media freedom challenged across the globe
In a year marked by crises, news outlets have also faced major challenges for them to do their jobs, and we have seen many examples around the world of how the ability of journalists to report freely has been severely undermined. This unfortunate reality is reflected in our survey responses.
Nearly half of all respondents indicated their employer had been a target of cyber attacks (45.7%), legal intimidation (45.7%) and denied access to information (44.3%). Online harassment (41.4%) was also common. Although our data shows the universality – and breadth – of these press freedom challenges, many of these issues appear to be more prevalent in developing countries.