Digital Transformation in Media Publishing

| | 7 min read

Digital innovation has transformed the media and publishing landscape so that you can pick out extremely contrasting situations within the last decade. The digital transformation in the media publishing industry is such that everything today revolves around digital devices, whether it is reading or consumption through other means. According to pew research1,

86% of Americans read their news on their digital devices.

This transition from print to digital began over two decades ago, but it has picked up momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As a result of these dramatic changes in events, there are very few publications that remain print-only. Almost all major publishing houses maintain digital versions of their newspapers, books, magazines, or newsletters. Migration to digital by readers and publishers alike led to an extinction of the traditional methods of communication and monetization.

Why Are Media Organizations Going Digital?

Embracing digital transformation, more and more media organizations went digital in the last decade. Part of the reason for this is the downward trend in advertising revenue for print publications. In contrast, online advertising revenue has constantly increased. According to a study2,

...the global print advertising revenue has dropped from $39.30 billion in 2019 to $35.44 billion in 2020. 

Apart from advertising, organizations can save a considerable amount of money if they stop their print publications. Printing requires a massive amount of investment as the company needs to invest in employees who write and design the newspaper or magazine and bear the cost of printing. The cost of printing is very high and is not sustainable based only on circulation and sales. 

In India, publications such as Sakal Times, an English paper by Sakal Media Group, have stopped their print edition and are now working as a digital news organization3. When the pandemic hit, even the Times of India decided to shut down many of its print editions to save money during the phase of uncertainty.

Revenue is one of the significant influences for the publications to move online, but their target audience has only supported this decision. Today’s audience is accustomed to immediacy. The digital news sources are much quicker and enable the readers to read breaking news within seconds of the incident. Organizations using traditional or print mediums are not in a position to offer this. 

Now that we understand why the audience and most publishers are online let’s also discuss what they are doing differently to attract and maintain their reader base.



What Are Digital Publishing Houses Doing Differently?

Investing in and Creating a Community

Digitization has not only made information readily available it has also made it an interactive process. Once limited due to the constraints of the print or television industry, social media has made it easy for anyone to report news directly to the organizations. Nowadays, the media houses focus on audience-driven stories that allow people to participate in the news process.

It has created a community of followers that helps the organizations collect, produce and distribute news. CNNiReport and Demotix are good examples of a community of citizen journalists.

Communities are also created by some niche publishing houses. It helps them to:

  • Directly engage with the audience.
  • Turn them into participants.
  • Open revenue opportunities.

An excellent example of this would be Black Ballad4 from the UK that helped create a safe space for black women on the internet to express their thoughts freely.

The News Minute (TNM), an Indian news portal published from Banglore, the capital city of the Indian state of Karnataka had two things in focus: The stories they publish should be free to access anywhere in the world and also should be free of strings. As national media (in India) generally neglected news from the South, TNM set out to bridge this gap by covering the five South Indian states extensively. Online advertisement alone wouldn’t cover their expense. So they devised an ingenious method to monetize reader interaction with their editors and reporters. Thus borne, ‘TNM Connect.’ 

Community is not just about the audience. It is also about the different organizations that come together for a project that helps people. The CoronaVirusFacts Alliance Database5 is an example of an organizational community. The International Fact-Checking Network, a collaboration of 99 fact-checking organizations created it.

Taking a Hybrid Approach to Market

Sales and marketing need to go hand in hand for customer acquisition and customer retention. A solid mix of traditional and digital marketing has helped organizations cut through the noise and connect with the right audience.

Penguin, a big publishing house, moved with the times and wanted to create a buzz for its audiobooks. It used a branded podcast6 with influential guests and organic call-to-action, leading listeners to audiobook samples to increase their sales of these sampled books by 73%.



The Paid Content, Subscription, and Membership

The shift to subscription and other non-ad-based models has helped companies build valuable direct-to-consumer relationships. It will help news organizations increase their revenue and retain customers through long-term recurring revenue streams. 

The best examples for this would be Financial Times and New York Times, whose three-quarter readers only subscribe to digital subscriptions7. Even local Newspapers like Boston Globe have more digital subscribers8 than they have in print.

A trusted financial media outlet, Benzinga built a subscription-only version of their site behind a paywall on a sub-domain, Zyxware ensured that they could provide maximum value to readers through exclusive access to stories that only members get. 

Three Trends for Media Organizations to Adopt

Data-Driven Content Strategy

Successful media and news agencies collect and use insights into reader behaviour to make content-related decisions and increase advertising revenue.

It helps increase reader engagement, improve reader experience and focus on direct-relationship with the readers. According to a study by Deloitte9,

companies using engagement data can optimize cost per thousand impressions by 20% compared to companies not using this data.

Create Interactive Content

Content to any media house is king and the primary way to attract and retain customers. Digital platforms give you a means to create interactive and entertaining content.

Interactive graphs, images, and pictures effectively explain data based on detailed stories. Digital innovations also allow you to include virtual reality and interactive maps in your reports. News organizations explain land development or environmental deterioration in many cases using these extra tools at hand.

Good examples for good content creation would be BuzzFeed and Huffington Post that are digital-first websites.

Explore New Channels

Exploring is what led these organizations to the digital world, but they can stop there. They need to find new channels to adapt and change based on the changing environment. If the audience prefers more virtually interactive content, you need to explore more tools to have interactive content.

If Podcasts get you more audience, then you need to create podcasts that the audience can use. New York Times used this to make The Daily10 a podcast that has built an audience of 2 million daily listeners11 and substantial annual revenue.

Digital transformation has helped organizations grow and become global. At the same time, some organizations have turned their focus on niche audiences and have penetrated that sector. This was not possible through the traditional methods as live or direct interaction was never really possible. It also helped organizations grow their reader base and have a set of loyal readers.

This transformation is not just for the future or the readers; it is also for organizations to look for new revenue-generating opportunities and expand their user base that otherwise would have been bound to a region.


  1. Elisa Shearer, Pew Research Center, “More than eight-in-ten Americans get news from digital devices” (online). Published 2021-01-12. Link accessed on 2021 November 20. 
  2. ReportLinker, “Print Advertising Global Market Report 2020-30: COVID-19 Growth And Change” (PDF, online), Published 2020 December, Link accessed on 2021 November 20. 
  3. exchange4media, “Sakal Times & Gomantak Times to shut down operations”, (online) Published 2020 May 28, Link accessed 2021 November 20
  4. Ariel Zirulnick, the Membership Guide (online), “How Black Ballad built a safe space online for Black women” Last edited 2020 September 16, Link accessed 2021 November 20
  5. Poyner. (online), “Fighting the Infodemic: The #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance”. Dateline missing, Link accessed 2021 November 21
  6. Hannah Telfer, campaign (online), “Case study: The power of the podcast for Penguin Random House”, Published 2017 April 26, Link accessed on 2021 November 21.
  7. Jaclyn Peiser, The New York Times, (online, print) “New York Times Tops 4 Million Mark in Total Subscribers”,  Published 2018 November 1, Link accessed 2021 November 21. 
  8. Don Seiffert, Boston Business Journal, (Print, Online), “The Boston Globe now has more online subscribers than print ones”, Dateline: 3 years ago, Link accessed 2021 November 21
  9. Robert Aitken, Deloitte. (online), “Digital transformation through data: How news and media companies are delivering more value with insights”, Dateline missing, Link accessed 2021 November 21
  10. The New York Times, (Podcast, Column) “The Daily”, Twenty minutes a day, five days a week, hosted by Michael Barbaro and powered by New York Times journalism. Dateline irrelevant, Link accessed 2021 November 21. 
  11. American Public Media, (FM Radio, Online),, “The Daily” (Hosted by Michael Barbara & powered by The New York Times Newsroom), Dateline irrelevant, Link accessed 2021 November 21.