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Specialized or generalist publishing? What choice between broader audience and “niche” monetization

Luca Filigheddu

What is the perceived scenario for publishers today, in 2023? According to a research by Oxford University in conjunction with Reuters, globally, publishers — both specialized and generalist — are experiencing a complex but potentially opportunity-rich moment. 

Forty-four percent of the surveyed sample of publishers say they are confident about growth this year, while 19 percent express little confidence.

The biggest concerns include rising costs, lower interest from advertisers, and loss of subscribers due to high competition.

The wave of technological innovation and extraordinary advances in artificial intelligence since the second half of 2022 have laid bare immediate opportunities and challenges for journalism. Artificial intelligence offers publishers the ability to provide more personalized information and formats to help manage channel fragmentation and information overload. 

In this sense, how to win readers? What is the most profitable path, both in terms of readership and monetization? There are two ways:

  • the niche, specializing one’s content for an audience truly interested in specific topics;
  • or generalist information containers, with a potentially much larger but also less loyal and more distracted user base.


Topic verticality and its impact on revenue

In digital publishing, the issue of topic verticality and its impact on revenue depends on several factors and can vary depending on the specific context. There is no universal answer to determine whether theme verticality is always a good thing in terms of revenue, nor whether generalist sites and titles are less attractive from a subscription perspective.

Some specific topics or specialized publications may attract a dedicated and passionate audience that may be more inclined to financially support the publication through subscriptions or content purchases. For example, specialized publications-from technology reviews to ecology, from mountain sports to online trading-may be able to create a loyal community interested in paying for quality content in that specific field.

On the other hand, aggregator sites and generalist newspapers offer a wide range of content that may appeal to a wider audience. This type of publication can be supported by different monetization strategies, from advertising to mixed funding models that combine advertising and subscriptions. However, people’s willingness to subscribe to a generalist publication will depend on the quality of the content offered, the reputation and notoriety of the publisher itself, and other factors, such as the availability of free alternatives on the market.

It is important to note that digital publishing is an ever-evolving field, and reader preferences and business models may change over time. Successful publications are usually able to adapt to the needs of their audience and offer unique value, regardless of whether they are vertical or generalist.

Thus, it is not possible to generalize about the effectiveness of topic verticals versus generalist sites and newspapers in terms of revenue: both solutions can prove to be viable strategies, provided they are supported by quality content and adapt to the preferences and needs of the target audience, including as innovation in formats and fruition.


New formats, social and digital creators: the last frontier of specialized publishing

Also referring to Reuters research, 72 percent of publishers would be concerned about a growing phenomenon among users, namely avoiding certain news clusters now considered overused or “depressing,” such as anything pertaining to pandemics, wars and economic crises. Publishers say they want to counter this with explanatory content, including video (94 percent), question & answer formats (87 percent) and inspirational stories (66 percent), to increase traffic, engagement and loyalty. 

Indeed, in 2023, more publishers will invest in subscriptions and memberships: most respondents (80 percent) said subscriptions are a top priority for revenue, ahead of display and native advertising. Despite the squeeze on consumer spending, more than half (68 percent) still expect revenue growth from subscriptions and other paid content this year.

But how to build a loyal community and keep it constantly expanding? 

Social platforms are a great supplement in this regard, particularly the newer and “younger” ones, such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube itself, because of the strength of video content. 

Content creators, to be hired to increase the resonance of content, are also an excellent resource, especially in niches-while in contrast the generalist news world does not, as a rule, use influencers. 

A powerful arrow in the bow of vertical publishers, then, with a view to offering exclusive content and boosting subscriptions, paywalls and monetization in general, is to leverage all the formats, players and levers available in the digital landscape today.