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Portfolio revenue thinking: How publishers have embraced thinking differently about the ways they make money

Posted 6 months ago by Angus

Wherever you look, publishers are diversifying away from display, turning their attention instead toward revenue streams that can provide for the future and now the future has a name: portfolio revenue thinking.

Despite the flash name, it’s no departure from the traditional way publishers have made money. Instead it’s a return to the model of making money in multiple ways that has underpinned print since time immemorial. At its core is a desire to move beyond display advertising and offer better experiences to readers’, understanding that an improved offering is now central to engaging audiences.

Below are five simple ways publishers have pivoted to portfolio revenue thinking and diversified away from display in the past year:


Publishers entertain people. You buy a magazine, take out a subscription, or click through on Facebook because the article offers you something. It’s not a big leap from entertaining through articles, to entertaining through live events.

Hearst UK have rolled out their events under the umbrella title Hearst Live . Capitalizing on existing editorial cloud, they’ve harnessed brands like Cosmopolitan to drive revenues through event sponsorship packages and tickets. It can also be a lucrative source of income from sponsorship.

Events have become so lucrative that publications are changing their membership programs to focus only events. New York Magazine has done just that after seeing continued success with its Grubstreet food and drink event brand (Digiday, February 2018)

Beyond display advertising

For too long publishers have been distracted by display at the expense of everything else. Now they’re evolving beyond, recognizing the duopoly as a distraction that is only relevant so long as they’re preoccupied with display and that ad-blocking is immaterial once display is taken out of the equation.

Advertising itself needn’t be irrelevant, if it can provide a service to people and add value to their decision-making.

Native ads hold particular promise, seeking to blend into editorial experiences and provide less interruptions than people currently endure with display. In fact they’re so promising that Business insider estimates they’ll drive almost three-quarters of ad revenue by 2021.


It’s the oldest revenue stream in the book and underwent a full scale digital revival last year.

Not only are publishers securing more subscribers, their securing more ways to add subscribers too.

The Economist takes a cross-platform approach to acquiring subscribers, embracing platforms that might not immediately seem like a conventional choice for a business publication. In particular, the publication has made excellent use of Snapchat to reach new audiences, with a monthly pull of 7.1 million users (Medium, October 2017).

Shirking the inelegance of a paywall, The Guardian has a simpler approach to subscriptions: ask members for donations. Across paying members, print and digital subscriptions, and one-off donations The Guardian earned revenues from 800k readers in 2017 (The Drum, October 2017). It’s been so successful it is now a larger source of income than advertising.

The revival subscriptions are enjoying demonstrates the willingness of readers’ to pay for editorial quality and to support the creation of content that is meaningful to them.


Further evidence of readers’ growing willingness to pay for quality content is provided by the growth of micropayments.

Bringing the Netflix model to publishing, third party platforms are aiming to “Spotify” publishing, giving people access to premium content on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Dutch platform Blendle is one of the leaders, working with 56 publishers including The Washington Post, to give people access to featured stories for small payments from $0.15 for a snippet, to $2.50 for full feature stories.

Consumers like choice – witness Spotify and Netflix’s success – so it’s unsurprising that a publishing platform, allowing people to pick articles a la carte is proving so attractive. It also offers publishers an alternative way to earn revenue from non-subscribers, as opposed to a choice between subscription or free access.


Last but by no means least on our list of ways publishers have embraced portfolio revenue thinking is the renewed publisher interest in commerce. Around in one form or another for more than a decade, commerce has at last reached maturity as a revenue stream for publishers: there are editorial brands built around a commerce proposition, dedicated commerce editors at publications and millions of dollars generated annually from sales driven by publishers.

Indeed, commerce is such a mature revenue stream that readers’ now expect product recommendations from brands and are more engaged as a result of the service journalism publishers provide. GQ, for example reports that 40% of readers visit their site for product recommendations, 30% way more product recommendations and in research conducted with Skimlinks, found that shoppable content readers spent twice as much time on site as editorial only readers (Digiday, January 2018).

So on all fronts, publishers are embracing a portfolio approach to revenue generation, tying together multiple different streams in the name of sustained profitability. If publishers continue to move beyond display advertising, the focus will be off the doom and gloom of the duopoly’s dominance of digital spend, and shift instead to the proliferation of ways for publishers to make money this year.

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