Digital transition – everyone in the newspaper business is doing it – but how and how fast they are doing it varies massively. Whether it’s business models, market conditions or audience profiles, there are a wide range of factors affecting how much of their revenue newspapers currently derive from digital. 

So, we thought we’d take a look at a selection of high-profile newspapers to see how far along the road they are. 

The breakdowns below for Trinity Mirror, the Mail titles, NYT Co and Guardian cover the most recent full year results released by each publication.

We’ve chosen these publications in part because they actually bother breaking out their print/digital split, but also because between them they are broadly representative of three very different approaches to modern news publishing.

  • The NYT has a freemium paywall and a subscription approach
  • Trinity Mirror doesn’t have a paywall, but it struggles with a global approach given a large proportion of its portfolio is regional
  • The Guardian and the Daily Mail both have similar approaches – mass audience and mass display advertising

We’ll stress there has been some back of the envelope maths in working out these figures. Only the Guardian clearly breaks out its digital and print revenue and wrapped up in that figure is a hefty slice of income from the Soulmates dating service. With the other organisations, we have had to subtract digital revenue from overall revenue totals for circulation and advertising to work out the print figures.

The chart

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NYT Co

First off, we converted the figures from USD to GBP for the above chart. Digital accounts for 20.9 percent of the revenue NYT Co makes from circulation and advertising. The figure is that high primarily because of the almost $150 million the NYT makes from its 760,000 odd subscribers. With its continued efforts to expand its subscription options, the company is repackaging its content in a multitude of different ways to attract different audiences.

A similar model is the FT’s, which also has a freemium paywall and digital subscription revenue. We don’t know the exact figures, but FT digital content revenues overtook print content revenues for the first time last year and FT.com digital subscriptions now represent almost two-thirds of the FT’s total paying audience, so it’s safe to say the Financial Times has a sustainable digital strategy in place.

The Guardian and The Daily Mail

The Guardian, however, makes 28.5 percent of its revenue from digital. A big chunk of that is Soulmates, but its digital advertising revenues are growing rapidly and, with international audience growth and a strong focus on monetising that audience, most expect . On the print side of things, recent small circulation upticks (due in part to the success of the Snowden/NSA coverage but also a large marketing campaign) and a cover price rise will also have helped, but when compared to many of its competitors, the Guardian’s print circulation of 193,00 is pretty small.

In contrast a similar model operated by the Daily Mail achieves very different results – digital accounts for only seven percent of the total circulation and advertising revenue from DMGT’s Mail titles. That is of course, because the Mail’s print circulation is around 10 times bigger than the Guardian’s. However, it’s worth noting that the Mail Online was still bringing in £41 million in digital revenue compared to the Guardian’s £55 million, despite lacking such a strong digital add-on like Soulmates.

Trinity Mirror

Trinity Mirror is lagging a long way behind, with only 3.5 percent of its circulation and advertising revenue coming from digital. Trinity’s position puts it with a large portfolio of regional papers which are feeling the industry’s decline harder than most, and trying to monetise those brands without subscription revenue and attracting a larger audience is a difficult challenge. Digital brand UsVsTh3m is just starting to make some money from sponsored games, and there’s data journalism outfit Ampp3d which will probably start bringing in money soon, but it’ll take a while for them, or the other digital projects the group is working on, to make much of a contribution.

Trinity shares some characteristics with US-based Gannett, which has the US’s only explicitly national title, USA Today, as its flagship, coupled with a suite of regionals across.

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With declining digital and print ad rates and circulation drops, it’s not a pretty picture for these companies. Working out a successful, sustainable digital future is high on the list of priorities for all of these publishers. Whether through free-to-access content and a mass audience approach, or putting their content behind a paywall, all of these media businesses are fully aware their future needs to be much, much more digital.

Money image via Flickr user JamesCridland used under a Creative Commons licence.