Reuters Report: Paid Subscriptions a Bright Spot In a Landscape Where Digital Ad Revenue Disappoints

We're parsing some of the findings from The Reuters Digital News for 2017 report

The consistent refrain for publishers in the digital age is that everyone is still trying to figure out what can work, from platforms to advertising to workable, sustainable models. But as the path to enlightenment remains covered in fog, possibly smog, the effects of the digital era’s inscrutable disruption are being felt. The clearest recent illustration was last week’s crop of layoffs from outlets new and old: HuffPost, Vocativ, Time, the Los Angeles Times.

The Reuters Digital News Report for 2017 reifies some of the trends good and bad cropping up in various organizations’ earnings reports and elsewhere, offering glimpses of what to try next, where to double down and what to avoid.

One of the more obvious findings, and one we’ve all likely memorized by now, is that the growth of digital revenue has not been enough to offset the loss of print revenue.

Subscriptions have been picking up some of that slack.

“The future of news in the US may ultimately depend on whether the post-election surge in willingness to pay proves fleeting or a harbinger of a broad-based cultural change in public support for quality journalism,” writes Benjamin Toff, a research fellow for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

For this year, at least, it’s a trend on the rise. Sixteen percent of Americans surveyed in the report said they pay for online news. On its own, that figure may not appear so dramatic, but it represents a 7 point jump from last year, made possible in significant part to young people paying for news.

Some of the platforms and devices that are working, in terms of popularity, include smartphones (an obvious one, but they’re also being accessed in more places) and mobile news aggregators. The report notes specifically Apple News and Snapchat Discover as making dramatic audience gains. And if you needed to quantify the bang-and-a-whimper cycle of the smart watch, look to digital assistants like Amazon Echo and its ilk, which are topping smart watches as a way to get news. Reuters’ findings also support the continuing growth of newsletters. At 23 percent, the United States ranks third among countries surveyed when it comes to people getting their news from email.

Trust in news among Americans seems to be subject to the same phenomenon by which Americans spare their own representatives from the overall disdain they feel for Congress on an institutional level. When asked about the news in general, just 38 percent of participants said they trusted the news (a five point increase over the previous year). When asked about trust in the sources they personally use, that figure increased to 53 percent.

And speaking of sources of news, when put through an ideological filter, Fox News is an island, for conservatives. An infograph comparing top online sources based on the political ideology of their audiences shows Yahoo at the center and a dense but long cluster of outlets for left-leaning audiences to its left, with NPR attracting the most left-leaning audience. To the right of Yahoo, there is just one source for right-leaning audiences, and it’s the digital version of Fox News.