Seven years after the launch of its membership initiative, The Guardian has reached one million digital-only subscriptions

Not coincidentally, longer-term financial sustainability looks within reach, as The Guardian posted an adjusted operating profit of £3.1 million in 2021, with reader revenues making up more than half of total income

A fine-tuned governance structure and key management changes indicate better alignment between the core journalism activity and the enterprise, designed to ensure that its independence is sustainably delivered

Podcasts are a small but growing medium, and global streamers and domestic audio players alike are investing heavily in podcast content, distribution and advertising technology.

The broadening choice and diversity of podcasts available has put discoverability, exclusives and personalisation at the heart of the race to become the number one destination for audio.

While the UK currently lags other markets in terms of advertising and monetisation, increasing financial viability coupled with
healthy listener demand suggests a bright future for the UK podcasting sector.

 

Overall radio listening remains robust and continues to make up the majority of audio time, however a worrying decline in both reach and hours amongst younger people makes further innovation necessary

Shifting audio distribution trends driven by digital and IP listening, as well as the increasing influence of smart speakers and connected devices, represent significant challenges for the radio industry going forward

Strong collaboration and regulatory support will be needed to reconnect with elusive younger listeners, prevent US tech companies from becoming de-facto gatekeepers, and preserve the public value at the core of the UK radio industry

The UK print media sector is facing escalating input cost inflation. Newsprint prices are 50% higher year on year in Q4 2021, noting that prices in 2020 were exceptionally low on soft demand. Based on 2019 rates, prices could be 25% higher in H1 2022. The squeeze on margins for print could destabilise the economics of supply overall

Newsprint inflation is being caused by soaring costs of recycled feedstock, exacerbated by the monopoly of a single supplying mill in the UK after years of attrition. Imports remain substantial, but impaired by the EU-wide crisis in the supply of paper products, alongside bottlenecks at points of entry to the UK

Although less significant a factor than paper in the cost of printing the news, electricity cost inflation is another worry for printers, noting that these costs were again also exceptionally low in 2020. Wholesale electricity prices surged by 80% in 2021 (Ofgem), due to pressure on gas supplies from Russia, and the global energy crisis, which will persist into 2022

 

 

Epic Games, maker of mega-hit Fortnite, sued Apple over alleged antitrust violations around App Store rules and Apple’s 30% tax on in-app transactions. A decision could come soon, though it will be contested on appeal.

The implications of the case could be far-reaching, as Apple and other tech companies like Google design their platforms to extract high-margin revenue from the transactions they facilitate, including news subscriptions: a five-year basic in-app subscription to The Times costs £885, of which Apple takes £158. 

It comes in the context of a flurry of debate and decisions around tech antitrust and consumer protection: new laws may ultimately be needed, but regulators in the US and UK are proving they can be creative with their existing tools. 

The press industry lost £1 billion off the topline from the calamitous decline in print revenues due to pandemic-related mobility restrictions, partly offset by gains on digital subscriptions, much harder to precisely size in revenue terms.

Trapped at home for the most part, online traffic to BBC News and news publisher services boomed. Popular news sites marginally grew digital advertising while the quality nationals attracted 800,000 new paying subscribers to reach nearly three million in 2020.

The outlook for 2021, in the transition to the ‘new normal’, is mixed. Consumer work patterns and news, information and entertainment habits are unlikely to ‘bounce back’ to pre-pandemic levels, placing free commuter titles at particular risk. Signs of confidence through online innovation are welcome.

Spotify paid $5 billion in royalties last year to the music industry. Critics claim the $0.0038 per-stream average royalty rate is too low. However, this is largely due to high volumes of ad-funded listening, a core part of Spotify’s freemium model, and a defence against piracy. 

To silence the critics, the “Spotify Loud & Clear” site presents data on the distribution of industry royalties, which are heavily skewed to established artists. Only the top 5% of artists generate annual industry royalties above $1,000, though they take home less under their deals. 

The remaining 95% of artists on Spotify generate under $1,000 a year and use the platform mainly to reach fans that attend live gigs, their primary source of income, now halted by the virus. These artists’ problem is digital discovery, as Spotify’s playlists push hits rather than the midlist. 

Recorded music revenues in Japan are stuck in decline as physical sales sag, although 2017 marks the first year when streaming gained a foothold with 8 million subscribers. 

J-pop fans spend on 'experiences' with their idols including events, merchandise, CDs and DVDs, which streaming cannot replicate. Top native LINE MUSIC offers integration with a popular messaging app and bundling with mobile. 

Serving international repertoire, Apple Music claims more subscribers than Spotify in Japan, which is more localised, and has most users on the free tier. Amazon Prime Music is a looming constraint on the adoption of subscriptions. 

The decline in demand in print presents trading challenges, but the more immediate pressures are on the supply side, with a 15% rise in paper prices accentuating the burden of production and distribution costs

With digital advertising growing at stubbornly low rates, UK publishers need to return to their fundamental consumer-centred strengths by switching their strategic attention towards strong brands, curation, and community

The case for specialist, branded publishing media remains robust: products, services, and consumers are still best brought together in an authoritative, trusted media environment. Advertisers and agencies (and also media) have undervalued the effectiveness of those environments, and direct-to-consumer opportunities have been exaggerated by many brands

The Telegraph, The Guardian and News UK (The Times and The Sun) will jointly invest in The Ozone Project to develop a state-of-the-art platform to sell their digital inventory

Ozone will add value to news digital inventory and seek to win back advertiser expenditure on Facebook and Google’s various properties, (indirectly) reigniting interest in placement next to quality news media content

Each JV participant operates a distinct business model, which risks friction, but this digital reboot is crucial. By 2020, Ozone could add circa £30 million per annum – not a trivial contribution to a national newspaper newsroom