Growth in subs: 55 percent of publishers rank subscriptions for revenue potential

Publishers are optimistic about their preparation for the demise of third-party cookies as product innovation, data privacy and talent top the business priorities list for the years ahead.

Digital publishers in the UK are reasonably confident about their preparation for the demise of third-party cookies and think that new revenue streams will present greater opportunities than advertising over the next three years, according to a survey by the Association of Online Publishers (AOP).

Subscriptions, lead generation, audio opportunities and e-commerce hold the top spots for revenue growth potential across the survey’s respondents. More than half (55 percent) of the publishing stakeholder respondents told the AOP that subscriptions offered the most opportunity for revenue growth, with lead generation a bit further behind at 33 percent. 

The AOP said the findings suggested that publishers are now focused on building direct relationships with their users to leverage first-party data. 

The Digital Publishing: Meeting the Future study questioned 111 publishing industry stakeholders this January and February about how digital publishing companies in the UK were responding to the industry’s most prominent current challenges.

It found that on a 1 to 10 scale of confidence, respondents rated their optimism at 6.5 when asked how they felt about their plans to account for third-party cookie deprecation. 

Audio high on the agenda

Audio opportunities such as internet radio and podcasts were high up the list of growth opportunities, with 31 percent of those surveyed saying this was a potential revenue generator, matched by e-commerce. 

While B2B and Consumer publishers were broadly aligned in opinions around subscriptions and lead generation offering the most growth potential, there is a clear disparity around audio and commerce opportunities. 

Virtually no B2B respondents cited e-commerce as offering growth potential; instead they saw more opportunity in events (19 percent of B2B publishers). Those publishers serving both B2B and Consumer saw e-commerce as the top most promising revenue generator (28 percent).

At the bottom end of the listed avenues for growth, just 20 percent of all those surveyed said CTV and display advertising were among the areas with the most potential for growth.

Dealing direct

Direct deals were predicted to offer the most growth opportunities for advertising revenue specifically, with 51 percent of publishers citing this, ahead of private marketplace (29 percent) and open marketplace (20 percent) opportunities. 

The vast majority (86 percent) of B2B publishers surveyed saw the most opportunity in direct deals, while Consumer publishers were equally optimistic for direct deals and private marketplace opportunities. 

Demographics are the leverage 

Almost two-thirds of both the publishers and solutions providers surveyed by the AOP said they or their clients were largely focused on demographics in their leveraging of first-party data to segment their audience. Psychographic data was a focus for 29 percent of publishers and 27 percent of solutions providers.

Less than one in five participants said all their teams were aligned internally around their audience data, but despite this 75 percent said their organisation was working to ensure that audience data informed everything they did. Half the solutions providers in the survey thought many publishers did not have a strategy in place to ensure a joined-up approach to audience data, despite a clear understanding of its importance.

Revenue, transparency and talent top the priorities list

The AOP survey asked participants to rank their top five organisational priorities. They were:

  1. Developing revenue streams through product innovation
  2. Data privacy compliance and transparency
  3. Recruiting and retaining talent
  4. Ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace
  5. Reviewing tech stacks to make sure they support business objectives.

The least important areas were reviewing trading platforms and auditing vendors.

However, developing first-party data strategies was more of an organisational priority for Consumer publishers compared to B2B counterparts, perhaps owing to subscriptions already being a core part of B2B publishing strategy.

Four in 10 publishers responding to the AOP survey said they were open to the possibility of collaborating with other publishers, while 20 percent said they were already collaborating on alternative data initiatives and 16 percent said discussions were happening. 

AOP’s Managing Director Richard Reeves says: “We already know that publishers have successfully weaned themselves off a sole reliance on advertising and continue to focus on new and alternative revenue streams, which is mirrored in the findings. 

“The survey also presents a real snapshot into how publishers are feeling in anticipation of the demise of third-party cookies. Confidence levels are broadly optimistic, with publishers realising that the year ahead heralds a new era, where they can begin to truly harness their unique understanding of their audiences.”


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