Editors and publishers from around the world expect digital display advertising to remain an important income stream this year – though over half say their main revenue focus will switch to subscriptions and membership.

The findings, revealed in a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism forecast of 2019 Trends and Predictions, are based on a survey of 200 publishing executives from 29 countries.

The survey found that:

  • 52% said subscriptions and membership would be their “main” revenue focus in 2019
  • display advertising will be the main focus for 27%
  • native advertising will be the top area of focus for 8%
  • donations are top of mind for 7%
Publishers are still confident that advertising revenue will remain a vital revenue stream in 2019, with 81% saying it was an important area for them (among many), followed by subscription (78%), native ads (75%), events (48%), and e-commerce (31%).

But the increased attention on subscriptions – with the likely accompanying rise of paywalls – will lead to consumer irritation as more people are shut out of quality news sites.

This view is backed up by a Harvard Nieman Lab annual study, which quizzed over 200 leading media figures about their predictions for the coming year; subscription fatigue was a key theme.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, wrote, “Much of the news currently published online is simply not worth paying for. Some of it is hardly worth our fleeting attention, let alone hard-earned cash.”

The result, he forecast, will be the rise of subscription-blocking software.

Forcing users to login for content is one way round this, but this will “reduce fly-by users and the resulting advertising revenue”, the report pointed out.

The Reuters study is published against a backdrop of what its authors call “the year when the regulation of platform companies starts to bite following growing concern about misinformation, privacy, and market power”.

In that context, Google emerged as the go-to digital platform for publishers in the year ahead, named by 87% of senior publishing executives as either “very” or “extremely” important. Google was followed by Apple News (43%), Facebook (also 43%) and YouTube (42%), with Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, Amazon and Snapchat some distance behind.

Sourced from Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Harvard Nieman Lab; additional content by WARC staff