The life of news and the wealth of media companies in the digital world: Reader revenues and professional practices in a post-COVID world [review]

media companies
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Many factors are influencing, in the latest years, rapid movements towards a deep paradigm change in the media industry and, therefore, in the nature of news. We examine some of those movements and mutations in the latest times, in which a profound crisis of the media –most especially, the press industry- has been even more affected by the COVID-19 health situation. Due to it, some changes seem to be accelerating very quickly. The great financial crisis of 2008, and the transformation of new communication practices due to the adoption of the World Wide Web, marked a decline in the sales of the printed press, without a clear replacement business models for many media on the Internet. During 2020, especially in Europe many media have decided to implement paywalls. Finally, we foreseen a necessity of investigating to which extent economic inequalities are affecting the consumption of news in the digital world.

Keywords: Media industry; Paywalls; Media crisis; COVID-19.


  • Introduction
  • From free to paywalls: towards a sustainable model
  • Paying for the news
  • News fatigue and changes in the news production
  • Other strategies
  • Some conclusions
  • References


“Maybe media is the only business which has managed the digital transition worse than the music record industry”, said to a Spanish digital medium, El Confidencial in its edition of the 16th of October, 2016, Stephen Witt, a journalist himself and the author of How the music got free, a book on the crisis of the recorded music as we knew it until the arrival of massive digitization. He was not the first in comparing these two cultural industries: in 2012, Paschal Preston and Jim Rogers published an influential article on the crisis of both music and media industries, so they identified “multiple shifts and innovations” and a “potential influence of professional norms and values” (Preston and Rogers, 2012: 77) Since the implementation of the World Wide Web in the mid-nineties of the twentieth century, many media all over the world decided to give their contents away for free, with some exceptions, the Wall Street Journal from the very beginning and, later on, some generalist media as well (The times, for instance, in 2010;in 2002 implemented a paywall which lasted for two years and reached 40,000 subscribers, to abandon it). During many years, media have been wondering how to make money, how to monetize contents using the sector’s jargon, but it was not until 2020, unexpectedly in the midst of a global pandemic, that a jump into paywalls has happened all over the world, following the New York Times’ model (Nafría, 2017).

After Our path forward memorandum by the newsroom staff in October 2015 and Journalism that stands apart by the manager 2020 group team in January 201. The number of subscribers has been multiplied by ten in a decade, from the 50,000 initial ones in 2012 to more than five million in September 2020. At the same time, the incomes from the digital edition were superior than those of the printed one: 185.5 million dollars and 175.4 million dollars.

We intend to explain, preferably for the Spanish case embedded in the transnational market, how the current situation has been reached and what are the mechanisms and strategies that the mass media, now simply one of the agents (perhaps still the main one, but certainly not the only one) that act in a post-industrial information market (Anderson, 2013) and in a scenario that has been defined by A. Chadwick as a hybrid media system, where many other agents, from active users to sources informative, intervene in a more multifaceted and complex scenario than the one de facto monopolized by the media industry in industrial society. We thus intend to explain, on the one hand, and on the 25th anniversary of the emergence of the World Wide Web and the birth, as we know it, of journalism on the Internet, what has been the evolution of the news in the digital environment in historical perspective , but above all throughout the development of the project, monitor and interpret the different movements that the media industry, not in isolation but embedded in this hybrid communication system, carries out to reposition itself in this new and complex informational reality. Thus, we offer a short introduction on what have been the changes that the news has undergone as a commodity. This is a concept which appeared explicitly in the eighteenth century, when a journalist and entrepreneur of that time’s Venice, Giovanni Cattaneo, said that “the news are a commodity which, like all other commercial things, is bought either with money or with exchange” [“le nuove sono una merce che in simiglianza de tutte le altre cose commercevoli si acquista o col denaro o col cambio”] (mentioned by Infelise, 1997: 193). Second, what are the characteristics of all kinds that the news presents at present, both from the point of view of narrative languages (including characteristics such as interactivity, hypertextuality, multimedia, personalization, modularity) and economic and legal treatment , especially from the point of view of intellectual property and competition. Likewise, we will refer to the values attached to the news as a cultural asset.

We intend to explain, to a certain point, what have been the changes and evolution of the journalistic profession, its values, its configuration, presence and regulation in industrial and post-industrial society, and the competition they face from other agents present in the information process, such as active users or the information sources themselves, in the digital environment. Especially, we will concentrate in the first part of the paper on what is the evolution and transformation of the media industry, with special attention to the Spanish case, due to the deep crisis that the World Wide Web has brought to journalism.

We will, therefore, mention strategies of adaptation and resistance by the profession and the media) and we will take into account the structural and legal aspects, the adoption of business models and what digital journalism has meant in perspective as an emerging form of journalism in a scenario considered disruptive.

25 years after the invention of the World Wide Web, we now have enough perspective to analyze what have been the profound, structural changes that this new platform has brought to the landscape of the media industry – and especially for print, which roughly turned 400 years old in 2005 – and for the journalistic profession. The situation has been summarized by the Spanish news publishers as “there was never so much interest in the news and we never had so little income”.

Our proposal is based on Andrew Chadwick’s concept of the hybrid media system, a scenario in which the so-called legacy media have lost their role as a quasi-monopoly in the treatment of news and current information. One can speak of a structural crisis of the mass media, and particularly of the newspapers, which have become, both in Europe and elsewhere in the world, powerful lobbies that pressure institutions to legislate in favor of their interests. A clear example is how large press publishers have acted before the European Union to ensure that an exclusive intellectual property right for newspapers and press agencies is included in the new Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, in 2018. Other countries, like Australia, have joined in the movement towards making technological giants, like Google, pay for using the news. The media industry has faced competition from other actors: the active audience and users as authors, social networks, new platforms such as blogs and new formats (multimedia and interactive), the empowerment of information sources as transmitters of news that does not always need, or at least not as in other times, the mediation of journalism, make us wonder to what extent journalism and the media, largely products of an industrial society, will not be in a moment of a complete redefinition.


Recommended citation

Díaz-Noci, Javier. The life of news and the wealth of media companies in the digital world: Reader revenues and professional practices on a post-COVID world. Barcelona: DigiDoc Research Group (Pompeu Fabra University), DigiDoc Reports, 2021

Links / Enlaces


This paper is one of the results of the research project News, networks, and users in the hybrid media system. Transformation of media industries and the news in the post-industrial era (RTI2018-095775-B-C43 (Mineco/Feder), Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation, and Competitiveness (2019-2021).


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