Beyond Ads and Subscribers: Revenue Diversification For Publishers

Beyond Ads and Subscribers: Revenue Diversification For Publishers

Revenue diversification for publishers is easy when you use these 5 strategies.

Marketing & Growth

Bradon Rice

Bradon Rice

December 22, 2022


Publishers have long earned most of their revenue from paying subscribers and advertising. Within those categories, publishers have innovated with new offers and technologies to lift advertising revenue and entice subscribers. Despite these efforts, many publishers have lost tremendous revenue to digital advertising platforms. Below we highlight some of the winning strategies publishers have taken to evolve their revenue streams in the current market environments.

Coins stacked like bar graph

Start With Maximizing Advertising Revenue

In the short term, publishers can earn more advertising revenue because dollars are shifting away from social media. Twitter’s much-publicized difficulties in 2022 under Elon Musk - chaotic layoffs, increased inappropriate content, and more - have advertisers looking for new opportunities. For publishers committed to quality content and long-term audience engagement, there is a tremendous opportunity to win advertisers to your platforms, especially if you can offer brand-safe environments.

While significant, winning advertising dollars from other platforms will only take you so far. It’s also essential to take a hard look at the publishing business model. 

Why Now Is The Right Time To Invest In Revenue Diversification

There are three reasons publishers need to invest resources into revenue diversification.

Economic Downturn May Hurt Traditional Revenue Sources

An increasing number of economists and economic indicators suggest that there will be an economic slowdown in 2023. For example, Fannie Mae forecasts that the US will enter and leave a “modest recession” in 2023. Reuters reports that Britain and the Eurozone are expected to enter a recession in 2023. 

These economic concerns are already starting to impact the media industry. A National Research Group (NRG) study on the subscription economy found a majority (54%) of Americans are seeing increased prices in “books, magazines, and newspapers.” Relying on subscription price increases alone to produce additional revenue has its limitations.

Many consumers are already thinking about cutting back on their spending. The NRG study found that 28% of consumers plan to decrease their subscriptions in the next six months. While the NRG report is focused on digital media subscriptions like Netflix, consumer cost-cutting measures may spread to publishers. 

In addition to consumers, advertiser spending is expected to decline in several categories next year. MarketingProfs points out that advertising spending is forecasted to decline in automation, financial services, alcoholic drinks, and tourism in 2023. At the same time, overall advertising sales are still expected to grow in the US by 5.9%, according to Variety. While this number isn’t as large as the original forecast of 6.4%, it’s still growth.

Social Media Companies Shouldn’t Be Written Off Entirely

Large social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have had a challenging 2022. Even Google, which earned over $X billion in advertising revenue in 2021, is looking for ways to improve efficiency. For creative publishers with valuable audiences, there is an opportunity to grow as ad dollars move around.

It would be foolish to write off social media companies and platforms entirely. Other platforms like TikTok, Reddit, and YouTube have millions of users. The potential collapse of Twitter and troubles at Facebook don’t mean social media is over, just that the landscape is likely to undergo massive shifts. 

Position Yourself To Win Generation Z and Millenials For Future Growth

Taken together, millennials and Generation Z represent the publishing industry's future. As of 2022, these two generations represent approximately 42% of the US population (source: Statista). In other words, Gen Z and Millennials are the future of publishing. 

Many publishers are struggling to earn attention from these growing groups. The American Press Institute (API) found that one-third (31%) of Gen Z never check local news outlets, and 33% never check national news outlets. Further, Americans ages 16-40 overwhelmingly rely on social media to discover news. This suggests that engagement and loyalty to social media platforms may be higher than traditional news outlets, or it could suggest that social media platforms simply offer the interactivity and community that younger generations expect...

Evolving your digital presence to offer more interactive and social experiences is likely necessary. This innovation involves adding technology like Arena Live Chat to your website so that your audience can interact with each other. It also means making editorial changes like creating more video content, including short-form videos.

To show what’s possible when revenue diversification is done well, let’s take a look at the New York Times.

Revenue Diversification Case Study: The New York Times

The New York Times

In the past few years, the New York Times has transformed itself into a digital media success story. The news organization has pursued several revenue diversification strategies to succeed and is reporting that it already surpassed its 2025 goal of 10M subscribers and total revenue of greater than $2B.

The company’s digital success is supported by a robust diversification strategy that includes acquisitions in the publishing as well as app and game space. Over the past few years, the company has acquired the following properties:

  • The Athletic. The New York Times acquired this sports-focused publisher in 2022, which had 1.2 million at the end of 2021. 
  • Wordle. In 2022, the New York Times acquired Wordle, a word puzzle game website, for at least $1 million. Wordle, which launched in October 2021, had over a million users by January 20202, according to The Street
  • Audm. In March 2020, the New York Times acquired Audm, an app that offers long-form reporting and stories in audio format. 
  • Wirecutter. Founded in 2011, the shopping recommendations website was bought by the New York Times for $30 million in 2016. In 2021, a standalone Wirecutter subscription was priced at $5 per month or $40 per year. 

These moves have added new capabilities, audiences, and revenue sources to the company that goes far beyond traditional news.

Revenue Diversification Options For Publishers

The following strategies represent new ways to offer value and generate revenue. These revenue streams are the lifeblood of niche digital properties. Adding one or more of these strategies to your

1. Unbundled “Choose Your Own” Price Subscription

The rise of streaming services and losing interest in cable TV points to an opportunity for publishers: unbundling. Instead of offering a single paid subscription price, look for ways to sell different tiers at different price points.

  • Fast Company. The magazine offers three subscription prices as of 2022: print and digital ($24.99 per year), annual digital ($19.99 per year), or six-month digital ($6.99 per year).
  • Single Website Subscription. Take the New York Times, for example. Subscribers can choose to subscribe to a single website like The WireCutter for $5 per month or access this publisher as part of the “All Access” subscription which has a higher price.
  • Ad Supported Pricing Tier. Streaming video services like Netflix, HBO, and Disney have positioned ad-supporting pricing as an option. These more affordable options may offer a great opportunity to capture cost-conscious customers.

2. Ecommerce


Direct product sales beyond a subscription are becoming more common for news publishers. For publishers with a passionate fan base, putting your logo on an everyday item is appealing. Let’s take a look at a few ways that publications are leveraging ecommerce for revenue.

  • Morning Brew. The Morning Brew, a news email newsletter, offers playful apparel (e.g., Future Rich Girl onesie) and professionally oriented products (e.g., Microsoft Excel function guide 
  • Sports Illustrated. The SI Shop offers a wide range of products, including Sports Illustrated products and a fan shop (i.e., products for pro football, pro baseball, college sports, and pro hockey). 

Directly selling products may not be a good fit for every publisher. Recommending products to your audience may be a better fit.

3. Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing means earning a commission when a person makes a purchase based on your recommendation. The Amazon affiliate program is the largest and best-known affiliate program on the market, but it is far from the only one. Digiday and Taboola Survey forecast that affiliate marketing may generate over $15.7 billion by 2024.

The Wirecutter, best known for publishing detailed reviews of products like kitchen appliances, electronics, and apparel, has most of its revenue from affiliate marketing.

4. Digital Audio

Digital Audio

Podcasts like Serial, This American Life, and The Daily all built significant listener audiences. Recording and producing a podcast requires relatively minimal equipment. The Podcast Host suggested that $100 to $500 is all you need to spend on equipment to get started. Instead, the key draw to a podcast is the quality of the content. The content doesn’t have to be scripted in advance to succeed, either. Many of the most successful business podcasts, like Mixergy and Entrepreneurs on Fire, are interview based.

Creating a podcast creates a new revenue stream for publishers. In 2021, advertisers spent $1.3 billion on podcasts - a figure set to rise to $2.5 billion by 2024, according to Statista. The added authenticity of a podcast host reading an ad is also appealing to advertisers because audiences are more likely to pay attention.

5. Use Live Chat And Live Blog Experiences

We saved the best for us - using Arena Live Chat and Live Blog on your website. These content experiences offer high rewards for the effort invested. You can create a live chat experience that creates additional advertising space on your website in less than an hour. Likewise, a live blog providing coverage on a trending topic can feature a mix of original content and social media update. Live chat and live blog experiences keep audiences engaged for longer, which means more advertising revenue.

Diversify Your Revenue Stream Today

Publishers like Globo, Fox Sports, and the Japan Times are already using Arena to grow their audiences and advertising. Find out more about Arena’s solution for media and publishers.

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