As digital subscriptions grow, more publications join the “million-mark club”

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand


It is the start of the new year, and predictions for 2021 in the media sector are out.

The annual Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions report by the Reuters Institute suggests that 2021 will be a year of digital subscriptions. The report reveals media companies worldwide are focusing on reader revenue models, and “driving digital subscriptions was rated an important or very important revenue focus for 76%” of the sampled 234 media bosses.

Digital subscriptions are seen as the most important revenue stream for digital media, followed by display and native advertising.

The Guardian is one among several news media outlets that now has more than 1 million digital subscribers.
The Guardian is one among several news media outlets that now has more than 1 million digital subscribers.

In the last year, growth in digital subscriptions meant more news companies moved to the “million-mark club” — having 1 million or more digital subscribers. Last November, Gannett hit the milestone, and in January this year announced that it was aiming to have 10 million subscribers in five years’ time. Gannett owns USA Today plus 260 other dailies, and while the flagship newspaper does not have a digital subscription for its content, the option is “under consideration.”

The New York Times is leading the “million-mark club.” In November 2020, it had more than 7 million paid subscribers, of which 6 million were paying for a digital product. The company said that, “for the first time, the publisher brought more revenue from online readers than from its print subscribers.” Similarly to Gannett, it is aiming to hit 10 million digital subscriptions by 2025, but it is much closer to hitting the target than its competitor if the growth trend continues.

According to Press Gazette, other newspapers have also entered the precious club or are close to entering it. The Washington Post has more than 3 million digital subscribers, and The Wall Street Journal around 2.4 million. The Financial Times has 945,000, and News Corp in Australia has 685,000 subscriptions.

Additionally, The Guardian has more than 1 million subscribers or contributors, which is an achievement as it has not introduced paid digital content. Of the million, 900,000 are voluntarily paying for its digital content.

The digital transformation of newspaper groups seems to be well underway, and in 2020, the subscriptions were boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The big question naturally is whether the party will continue. And, if the money goes to the newspapers in the “million-mark club,” what happens with the national, regional, and local newspapers?

The COVID-19 bump offered relief for many newspaper publishers, but the Reuters report warns that “2021 is likely to be a tough time to hold on to cash-strapped customers increasingly looking for diversion and entertainment.” While this is a concern, the pandemic is far from over, and people continue to need facts and information about it, among other things.

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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