Why the New Statesman chose to remove network advertising

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The New Statesman has removed all network advertising from its website as it embraces a new business model and a rapid growth in digital readership.

Paid-for subscriptions exceeded 30,000 for the first time in 40 years last month, and in April traffic to the website reached the highest level since the introduction of a paywall in early 2018. The New Statesman has launched new newsletters, including World Review, and new podcasts as it diversifies and innovates.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a number of trends in business and society that were already taking place, and the media industry is no exception. The global advertising market has been battered by the crisis: GroupM, the world’s largest advertising company, predicts a 13 per cent decline in the global advertising market for 2020. But another trend - the growth in the subscription economy - has also become more pronounced. A recent survey found that across news and digital media, the rate of subscriptions was 300 per cent higher in March 2020 than the previous year.

Early on in the crisis, we recognised that it would be necessary to concentrate on making our digital products as appealing as possible to the millions of new readers visiting our website each month. We had already removed network advertising for our subscribers in 2019, and reduced it for registered readers, but we recently decided to remove these ads for all readers.

This decision reflects the major investment that our parent company, New Statesman Media Group, is making in an unprecedented expansion in quality journalism. The group has created a new data journalism team, who contributed to this week's special issue, and the New Statesman is rapidly expanding its international coverage under the leadership of Jeremy Cliffe, who joined last year from the Economist.

Danny Williams, the managing director of New Statesman Media Group, describes our company's commercial strategy as “moving away from relying on display ad inventory, because it doesn’t work for anyone – our readers, our clients, nor, crucially, for us as a business".

Instead, the New Statesman will continue to focus on building an influential and highly engaged readership, "We believe the only way to do this is by fostering high-quality journalism and by significant product development. Right now we are focused on bringing top talent to the business and we’ll have a lot more to say about this in a few months’ time,” says Williams.

Martin Ashplant, New Statesman Media Group's chief product officer, says the company's ambition “is to build the best digital products in the industry to match the world-class journalism the New Statesman is renowned for. In order to do that we have to put our readers first, and ensure the experience they have is second to none.

"We believe that the current digital advertising model is broken and does not facilitate that ambition, which is why we are moving from a model based on generating eyeballs to one based on building engaged communities.”

On Monday, the chief executive of News Corporation and former Times editor, Robert Thomson, observed that the internet's “dysfunctional digital landscape” has created an “existential issue for journalism”. He was right. The advertising model that currently supports the attention economy incentivises a certain kind of high-volume publishing, designed to bring in as many clicks as possible. That model is economically unsound and, in some cases, irresponsible with regards to the truth.

The New Statesman has been committed to intelligence and integrity for 107 years. This decision reaffirms that commitment, and our resolve to make a subscription to the New Statesman the best decision a reader can make.

Will Dunn is managing editor of the New Statesman.  

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