Pew’s State of the Media 2015: 6 Takeaways for Subscription Companies

Network and local news viewership is up, cable news and newspapers’ numbers are down, and mobile visitors are overtaking desktop users, reported the Pew Research Center in its 2015 State of the News Media Report. Pew Research Center also reports our news consumption habits are changing, being impacted by social media and mobile devices. In fact, 48% of web users surveyed say they get news about government and politics from Facebook, second only to local TV!

Other notable highlights, pertinent to the subscription industry, include:

  • Of the top 50 digital news sites, 39 get more traffic from mobile visitors than desktop users, though desktop users stay on sites longer than mobile visitors on 40 of the 50 sites.
  • Network news viewing is up by 5% in the evening and 2% in the morning. Local news viewership is up by an average of 3% for evening broadcasts.
  • For cable news (Fox News, MSNBC & CNN), however, viewership dropped by 8%.
  • Newspaper circulation for papers of all sizes dropped a total of 3% in 2014, and experienced a 19% drop overall since 2004. However, most newspaper reading still occurs in print with 56% reading news exclusively in print and 8 of 10 reading a print newspaper at least sometimes!
  • Newspaper ad revenue declined 4% to $19.9 billion, less than half of what it was in 2005.
  • Digital ad revenue increased 18% to $50.7 billion in 2014, including mobile ad revenue. Digital ad revenue represents 28% of total media advertising spending.
  • Last year $19 billion was spent on mobile advertising, representing 37% of all digital ad spending (over 25% the previous year).


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Top 5 U.S. daily newspapers with paywalls

Pew Research Center released this data for the top U.S. daily newspapers with paywalls. The data represents website circulation averages, Monday through Friday, for the six month period ended September 30, 2014.

 Data source: Alliance for Audited Media

Top 10 Newspapers by Digital Traffic*

*Number of unique visitors for Jan. 2015 (in thousands) for January 2015. Source: comScore Media Metrix. Click here for the full list.


What does it all mean?

Now in its 12th year, the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media Report is always fascinating, showing us trends and often confirming what we believe to be true with cold hard facts. But what does it all mean? How does this impact subscription-based media companies? We think it is all a matter of perspective, and how you view the data’s impact depends on what segment of the media business you are in and who your target audience is.

To help you sort it out, this year Pew Research Center created 13 fact sheets based on different types of media (public broadcasting, podcasting, news magazines, newspapers, digital news, etc.), but it also looked at the digital news audience and African American and Hispanic Media as separate categories. Each individual fact sheet shares data and insights into that category.

In the Hispanic Media category, for example, Pew tells us that 54 million Hispanics, as of 2013, account for 17% of the U.S. population, and 6 in 10 U.S. adult Hispanics are bilingual. The fact sheet then boils down the media that primarily serve that population.

Overall, the Pew report tells us what we already knew – new business models are always emerging and being tested. The country is hungry for news, but the platforms and top news providers will evolve and change over time. Digital and mobile news are hot right now, but print is still viable with the right business model, management and content.

Our key takeaways from the Pew report, relevant to subscription businesses:

  1. Despite the naysayers, newspapers are not going away – yet. Readers like a combination of print and digital options for news consumption, and they are often willing to pay for it. A tiered-subscription plan with different options and pricing will cater to these readers. For more information, including lists of the top 5 newspapers with paywalls, paid tablet editions and paid smartphone/mobile editions, read Pew’s Newspaper Fact Sheet
  2. Single copy magazine sales represent about 7% of a magazine’s total print circulation, so the majority of a magazine’s circulation comes from print and digital subscriptions. Again, a tiered approach seems to cast the widest net. Find out what your readers want and create packages that satisfy those needs.
  3. Print ad spending is still popular, but digital ad spending – particularly mobile – is growing rapidly. The ad revenue models for each are very different, so when modeling print, online and mobile ad revenue strategies, companies should look at and understand how to monetize their assets in different ways. Companies need to learn and truly understand each platform, its pricing structure and reach to maximize revenue potential and determine business validity  The smart play is to clearly define your target market segments, find out where they are and advertise to them there, but measure your results quarterly and make adjustments. {This strategy isn’t new, of course, but the tools we use are, so we have to adapt.}

  4. Subscription radio, including satellite provider Sirius XM, continues to grow. In 2014, Sirius XM had 27.3 million subscribers. Spotify had 60 million users, and Pandora had 81.5 million users. Though it is not clear if the latter statistics are paid or free users, or a combination, we know consumers are willing to pay for entertainment and news they find valuable. Content and choice are key, so mix it up and find the combination that works best for your subscriber base.
  5. Social media drives news engagement. A strong social media strategy should be a part of every subscription company’s marketing plan. Get in front of your audience on the platforms that appeal the most to them, and not just in terms of advertising. Provide meaningful content and customer service – if you have the bandwidth to do it well online – and you will attract new subscribers and retain them for the long haul. {Click here for 22 tips for using Twitter to grow your subscription business.}
  6. Media outlets and publishers MUST stay on top of technology at all levels of their organizations, understanding new options, trends and new best practices because of these new technologies. The worst thing a publisher can do is get stuck with antiquated technology that doesn’t allow them to create products, programs or partnerships that their competition and the market are creating.  In addition, teams need to be agile. If a company cannot develop a product – even with technology – in a matter of weeks versus months, they need to rethink how they are developing products including teams, organizational structure, processes, new technology tools and platforms.

The bottom line is that there are limitless opportunities for subscription companies to be successful, if they plan strategically, track their results, and make adjustments as needed. In fact, that’s why Subscription Insider exists – to help you develop the skills to optimize your unique subscription product and service mix to grow your company and serve your subscribers for years to come.

Dana Neuts is a Reporter and Contributer for Subscription Insider.   To learn more about Subscription Insider, and how we can help you be successful, visit us at for members-only tools, resources, tutorials, insider guides, subscription industry news, and more.