The Covid-19 pandemic boosted readership of digital news – and business titles have been no exception, looking at the most popular business news websites in the UK.
Press Gazette analysis of Comscore UK website audience data shows that web traffic to the most widely read business titles surged during the pandemic.
Business Insider saw its monthly online readership grow from around 7 million unique views per month in the previous quarter to an average of 9.5 million in the first quarter of 2020, driven by a huge spike in readership levels for March. The other leading publications including Bloomberg and Forbes saw a similar increase in readers.
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The data shows that audiences waned slightly after a significant initial coronavirus bump in traffic, but remain generally higher than before the pandemic.
The longer-term picture for the best-regarded business titles is more mixed.
News Corp-owned financial news site Marketwatch, the Financial Times and Forbes have seen the greatest increase in traffic from the last quarter of 2017 to the last quarter of 2019. MarketWatch’s average unique visitors were up 62% for the two-year period, while the FT’s visitors were up 46% and Forbes’ viewers climbed by 9%.
Faring less well was Fortune with its visitors down 79% since the last quarter of 2017. Bloomberg, the Economist and City AM also saw falls over the two-year period. The once-strong IB Times, which gained a reputation for dubious click-chasing practices, has also seen readership plummet after it effectively abandoned its UK operation in spring 2018, although it still maintains a minimal outfit.
As of the third quarter of 2020, digital-only publication Business Insider continues to be the most widely-read business title online. From July to September, the Axel Springer-owned title averaged 7.3 million unique views per month, slightly ahead of Forbes which received 6.93 million visitors in the latest quarter.
Business Insider, which launched in 2007, started a UK edition in 2014 and audience data shows the publication has a higher digital audience than key UK rivals such as the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.
According to Jane Martinson, Professor of Financial Journalism at City University, part of its success is managing to secure a niche audience.
But as previous Press Gazette analysis on audience data for the digital native sites has shown, website views only tell part of the picture as Google and Facebook’s dominance of the online advertising market means large volumes of traffic do not automatically equate to revenue. Converting that traffic into income is one of the key conundrums facing digital publishers today.
“The economy is one of the biggest stories in the global pandemic and people are desperate for news to try to understand it,” says Martinson. “But it doesn’t mean all is rosy for business publications.”
While Covid-19 has boosted readership, the economic impact of the crisis has led to a fall in revenues from advertising, conferences and corporate sponsorships – important to business titles.
Several elite brands, prominent among them business titles such as the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal have, however, succeeded in sorting out their business models where others have failed. Business Insider, which was once heavily reliant on advertising has also diversified its model having introduced a prime paywall for some content in 2017.
The top 15 most popular business news websites in the UK