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‘Cautious optimism’ revealed in World Press Trends survey

Despite the numerous challenges and uncertainties facing the news media industry, more than half of news executives surveyed in our annual World Press Trends Outlook research said they are upbeat about their companies’ business prospects for the foreseeable future says Teemu Henriksson

175 news executives from 60 countries took part in the World Press Trends Outlook 2023 survey from July to September 2023. The comprehensive survey aims to gauge how publishers’ business activities are developing in the current year, the next 12 months and beyond. It also raises questions about the most burning issues publishers face: revenue strategy, investments, focus areas, costs and, naturally, where they stand on issues such as AI.

“Many of the same challenges that publishers faced this time last year – inflation, rising energy costs, and the economic and geopolitical issues like the Ukrainian conflict – are still in play,” says Dean Roper, director of Insights at WAN-IFRA. “But unlike last year, publishers are more bullish on their near-term futures. At the same time, 45 per cent of publishers were pessimistic to this question. And, the survey closed just weeks before the Hamas attack in Israel. So perhaps ‘cautious optimism’ seems appropriate here.”

Key findings from the initial results
Industry mood on an upswing: Despite the challenging landscape, just over half (55 per cent) of the survey respondents said they were optimistic about the next 12 months, while 45 per cent were pessimistic about the year ahead. This is a clear change from last year, when we reported the same but in reverse, with 55 per cent saying they were pessimistic about the year ahead and 45 per cent saying they were optimistic.

Looking further ahead, the level of optimism among respondents rises slightly, with almost six in 10 (58 per cent) saying they were positive about their company’s prospects over the next three years. A closer look at the data shows that almost one in 10 (9.5 per cent) and (8.5 per cent) said they were “very optimistic” about the next year and the next three years respectively.

Print advertising still rules.

Print foundation remains strong: Although many companies and markets have made significant progress in their digital transformation efforts, the printed newspaper remains an important pillar of the business for many companies. Based on our survey responses, print revenues continue to account for more than half of total revenues (57 per cent).

That figure has actually increased slightly since last year, when respondents said that 53.5 per cent of their revenues came from print activities. Reasons behind that growth could be related to price increases for print subscriptions, more sophisticated pricing strategies, as well as challenges that some publishers have experienced with their digital revenues, especially those related to digital advertising.

AI adoption is happening faster than guideline development: Almost half of publishers surveyed said that they are working with generative AI (46 per cent), similar to what we reported in our report about the use of generative AI a few months ago. On the other hand, only 28 per cent of respondents said they had a clear framework for the use of AI. This would suggest that much of the adoption of AI tools is happening in an unstructured fashion, perhaps through the initiative of individual journalists or small teams, rather than based on broader strategic plans.

Strategic investments driven by reader revenue and product: As publishers continue to adjust and adapt their business models, reader revenue, as opposed to advertising, has become a key strategy in much of the world. So, it’s not surprising that the top investment priority in our survey was related to reader revenue, with product development and revenue diversification in the form of investment in additional revenue streams also being key areas of investment.

AI and data core areas for tech investments: In terms of publishers’ investment in technologies, it comes as no surprise that AI is a top investment priority, along with data. But publishers are also investing heavily in their multimedia operations as their digital transformation processes reach more mature stages: for the second year in a row, video is a major focus, followed by audio.

About the survey
A third of respondents (66 per cent) to the World Press Trends Outlook 2023 survey were C-suite executives (CEOs, publishers or managing directors), with the remainder being editors-in-chief, commercial directors or other senior managers. In total, 175 news executives from 60 countries participated in the survey between July and September 2023. The full World Press Trends report will be published at the end of the year, with more details about these initial survey findings, as well as further insights from additional sources.

((By special arrangement with WAN-IFRA. The writer is research editor, WAN-IFRA.)