From the Index: 
Independent publishers are struggling to move to reader revenue  

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

  • Despite large online audiences, only a sixth of total revenue amongst our sample came from reader revenue streams such as memberships or subscriptions.  

  • Publishers with a higher percentage of membership revenue tend to be newer, non-profit co-operatives. 

Independent publishers stand to benefit from the public’s search for trustworthy and accountable sources of information. However, it takes time, money and know-how to build revenue streams such as membership, subscriptions and donations.  

Only 16% of our publishers’ revenue comes from readers. By contrast, The Guardian now generates a majority of its revenue from the membership model which it has spent years – and millions of pounds – building. 

Just under half of our respondents are generating some revenue from their readers. Of this, 44% comes from membership and donations, while 36% comes from print sales.  

The organisations with a higher proportion of membership revenue were typically more recently established non-profits with a co-operative ownership structure. 

Recommendation 

We recommend that policymakers and philanthropists support all publishers to explore reader revenue models. 

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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.