As an ever-increasing portion of the global population finds themselves confined to their homes this week, coronavirus-related coverage is driving major surges in web traffic to publishers, and not just those that specialize in hard news, multiple vendors are reporting this week.
The analytics firm Parse.ly, whose referrals dashboard indicates that search engines are driving a larger portion of referral traffic to its 2,500+ member sites than at any point in the last 12 months, tells both Axios and Recode that coverage explicitly related to the coronavirus pandemic accounted for 13–15% of overall web traffic to these sites from March 6 to 12, dwarfing the activity on content related to the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
Data from Parse.ly competitor Chartbeat indicates that coronavirus coverage is dominating on its network of publisher sites, both in terms of visits and engaged time, across not just news outlets, but technology- and entertainment-focused sites as well.
Meanwhile, LiveIntent, an email marketing platform whose 2,500 clients include major DTC brands and several publishers such as Condé Nast and The New York Times, says it’s seen a 5% increase in newsletter open rates across the board this week, with newsletters in the “arts and entertainment” and “fashion and style” categories seeing the largest relative bumps.
In a memo sent to advertisers yesterday, Doug Olson and Catherine Levene, presidents of Meredith Magazines and Meredith Digital, respectively, said coronavirus coverage alone has garnered more than 7 million sessions on People.com to date, and that a single Travel + Leisure article about famous museums offering virtual tours generated more than 4 million.
As public interest in what has now become a global pandemic spikes, numerous publishers who have spent the past year or more pivoting to paid subscription models have made the difficult decision of providing free access to some or, in some cases, all of their coronavirus-related coverage at the risk of seriously undermining their own businesses. These include not just The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, but The Atlantic, Bloomberg, Foreign Affairs, Law360.com, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Wired.
The Los Angeles Times in particular endured a wave of online criticism Monday for keeping some but not all of its coronavirus coverage behind a paywall.
“I can tell you that in our newsroom it’s been a huge ongoing debate over how much of the paywall to take down,” wrote Matt Pearce, a national correspondent for the paper, on Twitter Monday afternoon. “Ultimately it’s a business decision but there are a lot of newsroom folks pushing for more of the information to get unpaywalled. But the reality is that if we just plummet into economic oblivion, that’s not really sustainable for paying journalists’ salaries.”