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From the Index: 
Independent news publishers are heavily dependent on advertising revenue 

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

  • The publishers in our survey generated £1.8m in advertising revenue last year – the single biggest revenue stream across the sector. 
  • 32% of advertising revenue consisted of direct sell display and classified advertising. 

  • Only 7% of publishers in our sample generated revenue from government advertising, including public notices. 

PINF Index Report - Ad revenue

Throughout the news industry, publishers are struggling to make advertising pay. However, the independent publishers in our sample are heavily reliant on this dysfunctional business model and this dependency may be inhibiting the sector’s capacity for growth. 

Direct sell display and classified advertising, combined, makes up nearly a third of advertising revenue across our sample. Selling advertising space directly to individuals and organisations can build strong relationships with advertisers, but it is labour-intensive and leaves little capacity for publishers to explore alternative business models.  

This form of advertising was particularly badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, as many small businesses across the UK went into hibernation and slashed their advertising budgets. 

Central and local government, meanwhile, are failing to support the sector through their advertising buying power. Several respondents called for more equitable access to government advertising, including public notices, which they say are not awarded to independent publishers, even where their sites have greater reach than the sites of larger publishers in the same area. 



We recommend that policymakers and philanthropists support independent publishers to leverage their collective reach to build advertising revenue. 

We also recommend that policy-makers ensure that central and local government advertising (including public notices) is spent equitably across the news publishing industry. 



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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