Small, mid-sized Indian publishers are rethinking advertising revenue

By David Sangma

HT Labs

Delhi, India


According to the Registrar for Newspapers in India, there are more than 100,000 small- and medium-sized publishers in India. Their approach to revenue generation and the kind of profits they make varies drastically.

On one end of the spectrum, we have the national publishers who have access and reach, and their readers hail from major cities to small towns to the nerve-endings of India. On the other end, we have small and medium publishers who may not have a wide subscriber base but cater to a very distinguished audience base.

Every publisher has a different approach for revenue generation, and each of those approaches has benefits and drawbacks.
Every publisher has a different approach for revenue generation, and each of those approaches has benefits and drawbacks.

Popular revenue models 

Ad sales (direct sales)

This means relying on sponsors and companies to advertise on the publisher’s Web site or publication.

The key advantage of this model is that it is a tried-and-tested model. Advertisers with a clear objective can reliably connect with their audiences through this option, particularly when the publisher has significant reach.

However, to generate meaningful revenue for any campaign, publishers need to have a strong user base and their content must garner sufficient pageviews unique users, particularly for digital publishers.

Promoted content

Publishers may allow advertisers to convey their message subliminally or directly through editorial content published on the Web site.

The advantage of this is that advertisers get a unique opportunity to connect with an audience and talk about their products or services through an editorial platform. The benefits of the same can go beyond what one can achieve through conventional advertising.

However, many publishers will be obliged to call out “sponsored content” so users and readers are made aware that the content is promotional in nature. This can turn people off as they may not be interested in reading content that is promotional in nature.

Data monetisation

A publishing company can monetise collected user or behavioural data mapped by sharing it with advertisers or relevant partners keen on targeting specific focused groups.

This is easy to follow and share with partners. However, regulations on privacy may cause audiences to lose trust.

Affiliate marketing

This is when publishers promote affiliate products and earn revenue through sale or commission of the products.

This is a low-risk approach. Revenue is earned when a product is sold. However, if the product does not match the content style or context of the editorial philosophy, results may not be favourable.

Digital subscriptions

News publishers collect revenue from readers for subscribing to access the latest content produced by them. This is a new approach that the likes of TOI+, Mint, and other companies have employed successfully. New-age publishers such as Quint, Print, and New Laundry have also managed to rely on the subscription model.

By employing the subscription model, companies can build loyal customers and thus manage to earn steady revenue. The disadvantage is that subscribers are more difficult to acquire than the average readers.

The future of publishing

With COVID-19, the traditional publishing industry has been compelled to reinvent. With plunging circulation figures and a drop in readership numbers across newspapers and magazines, the publishing industry is now forced to make a footprint in the digital world in an attempt to transition into a hybrid online-offline model.

With advertiser spends rising in digital in recent years, traditional publishers are now figuring out ways to build and double up on their digital efforts. They are also hoping to reposition themselves as compelling players in the digital space.

Classic tools such as WordPress or Joomla have helped many publishers go online. However, unlocking their revenue potential in the digital space requires out-of-the-box creative solutions. This is where small and medium publishers could do with some help.

Products like Upublish or Quintype help provide a tech platform and also suggest possible revenue partnership options.

For building a strong digital presence, it is imperative for publishers to focus on the following aspects.


To enhance their reach, publishers today need a platform that is versatile and provides simple and quick solutions for easy experimentation. This means amplifying content through different formats such as Web sites, mobile apps, mobile sites, and newsletters. The more touchpoints a company can be present in, the better the chances of being discovered (and hopefully, accepted).


Evidently, publishers today cannot just rely on a single revenue model and must expand their horizon. So, it would only make sense to consider a combination of revenue models.

Most successful companies attribute their success to their diversified approach to revenue generation and product development. Hewlett-Packard started with calculators but found tremendous success in computers and printers in the 1990s and early 2000s. Even Indian companies like Zomato (a food delivery app) started as a purely ad revenue model but moved into a commission- and service-focused approach to connect with their target groups.

Staying nimble and ready to adapt is key in the publishing industry, too.


Publishers today also need to be able to provide relevant content and connect with their target group through their reach and revenue strategy.

About David Sangma

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