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From the Index: 
An engagement strategy is good for revenue 

Our fifth excerpt from the Public Interest News Foundation’s Index of Independent News Publishing 2021. 

  • The publishers with the highest revenues tend to put more emphasis on engagement activities such as webinars, ticketed events, talks and email newsletters. 
  • The greater number of engagement activities, the higher a publisher’s revenue

  • 73% of respondents used email newsletters as a digital engagement tactic and 16% used webinars. Both activities were linked to significantly higher revenues. 

There are many factors affecting the success of a news publication, and our survey cannot prove that a particular tactic is guaranteed to lead to higher revenue. However, the evidence shows that publishers who focus on audience engagement are likely to have higher revenues than those who do not. 


We found that the use of webinars correlates with a range of success measures: higher revenues; higher numbers of unique users; and higher numbers of email newsletter subscribers. 

Publishers who use webinars tend to be global, national or regional in scope rather than local; and their webinars are likely to focus on a single topic, such as education, the environment or criminal justice, rather than general news. Without further research, we cannot say whether this means that webinars only work for publications that offer specialist coverage of issues across a large geographical area. 


However, we note that publishers who use webinars also use real-world engagement tactics such as ticketed events, talks, open editorial meetings and focus groups. This suggests that a successful engagement strategy relies on a range of tactics, both digital and real world, some of which may be more suited to some publishers than others. 


We recommend that policymakers and philanthropists support all publishers to explore digital engagement, with particular support for print-first publishers who want to develop a digital engagement strategy. 




This post is an excerpt from the Public Interest News Foundation’s Index of Independent News Publishing 2021. The Index 2021 is the first in a planned series of annual surveys. We’re keen to hear your feedback, such as suggestions for further research over the years to come. 

Authors: Dr Clare Cook, Dr Jonathan Heawood, Dr Coral Milburn-Curtis and Joe Mitchell.  


With thanks to the 56 publishers who took part in the survey. For more on the survey methodology, please see the full report.

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