Publishers are falling out with ads. This is where they are turning to for revenue

Plus the role of ad/subscription revenue mix in Tumblr’s decline

The first two items today are very closely related, and the common thread is this: Publishers are seeking additional revenue streams than advertising. The softness in ad revenue is driving layoffs at digital and traditional publishers - particularly with digital publishers such as BuzzFeed, G/O Media and Vice. But it has also hit publishers like the Washington Post, which has seen issues with its subscription and ad revenue.

Digiday is reporting that companies are leaning into events and not just traditional conferences but experiences as well. Broadly, publishers are trying to find ways to increase ARPU so that they can reach sustainability from a smaller but more engaged audience. We are seeing this at all scales of media, from small local newsletter-led players to larger publishers.

Many publishers and publishing startups have leaned into reader revenue. It has given major publishers like the New York Times a solid foundation to build their business on, buoyed publishers like The Guardian and given startups like Defector Media the basis for a sustainable business.

FT Strategies direct Lisa MacLeod has some straight talk and a strong call to action in this piece.

It is this trust and leadership from editors that will ultimately make the difference in the long-term fortunes of news organisations. Print is and will remain a premium product with a definitive market niche. But to ignore the commercial realities – and digital opportunities – of our industry is to be no better than the band leader on the Titanic.

Lisa MacLeod, director FT Strategies

We’re in a pivotal moment in digital media, and you only have to look at the decline of Tumblr. Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, bought Tumblr from Verizon for $3m in 2019, which was pennies compared to the $1bn that Yahoo paid for the quirky blogging site. Keeping to the theme of the decline in ads, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg said that most of the ads on the site are programmatic. And sadly, only 0.2% of Tumblr users were subscribers. If they could get that up even to 10% the site would be fine. Increasing subscriptions seems like the most promising opportunity for Tumblr.

An important effort with core principles that should share wide backing:

  • Ethics must govern technological choices within the media;

  • Human agency must remain central in editorial decisions;

  • The media must help society to distinguish between authentic and synthetic content with confidence;

  • The media must participate in global AI governance and defend the viability of journalism when negotiating with tech companies.