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Publisher revenue down 2.3% with revenue diversification alleviating ad declines

September 1, 2020 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN@michellemanafy

Digital publishing revenue declined 2.3% year over year against Q1 2019, according to the latest quarterly Digital Publishers Revenue Index (DPRI) from the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) and Deloitte. During the first three months of the year, income from subscriptions experienced strong growth of almost 20%. However, display and recruiting advertising both suffered significant declines, falling by 22.5% and 12.8% respectively in Q1 2020.


Publisher revenue diversification efforts helped offset the ongoing decline in digital ad revenue for publishers, as the duopoly continues to account for the vast majority of growth in this sector. This decline was, of course, intensified by the pandemic.

On a 12-month rolling basis, subscriptions and miscellaneous revenues performed strongly, growing by 18.8% and 25.9% respectively. Online video revenue grew by 10.7% and sponsorship experienced a slight increase of 3.2%. Growth in these areas however failed to offset the substantial reduction in revenue from display advertising formats — down by 17.1% year-over-year. Overall, digital revenue fell by 4.0% on a 12-month rolling basis.

Despite downturns across multiple revenue areas, the B2B sector was able to maintain revenue by growing sponsorship (10.9%), online video (10.6%) and subscription (2.3%) income.


A growing number of AOP board members reported prioritizing non-advertising revenue growth and cost reduction strategies. According to the DPRI, almost 90% of publishers cited non-advertising revenue growth as a high priority for the next 12 months, up from 78% who said the same in Q2 2019. Meanwhile, 78% of publishers identified cost reduction as a high priority for the next 12 months, up from 44% who were focusing on this area in Q2 2019. None of the publishers surveyed reported seeing expansion by acquisition as a strategic priority over the next 12 months, reflecting their need to focus on existing business operations.

As Richard Reeves, Managing Director, AOP, commented, “Ten years ago, display advertising made up 58% of digital publisher revenue and subscriptions only 7%. Subscriptions now account for 22% of total revenue; with display advertising having shrunk to 42%. As income from display continues to decline, the shift towards subscriptions and other diverse revenue sources is only set to grow, accelerated in part by the pandemic. The publishers that adapt to this change will be the ones that have the most to gain when the storm passes.”

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