Concentration of online news traffic and publishers' reliance on platform referrals: Evidence from passive tracking data in the UK

Boris Johnson addresses the nation during the pandemic.

Boris Johnson addresses the nation during the pandemic. 

Published in the Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media

This paper looks at how platforms shape traffic to news websites using passive tracking data from the UK. 

Abstract: Attention to online news is highly concentrated and increasingly shaped by platforms including search engines, social media, and aggregators that many use to find and access online news, potentially leaving some publishers highly reliant on platforms, raising the possibility of what has been called "platformisation" or "infrastructural capture". We use passive tracking data from the UK to measure how concentrated attention to online news is across different types of access (direct, social media, search engines, aggregators) and to examine how reliant different individual news publishers are on platform referrals. We find that direct traffic to news sites is highly concentrated, whereas all the distributed forms of access analysed have much lower levels of concentration. While we find that platform referrals are important for most publishers, we identify different profiles in terms of the volume of and reliance on referrals, suggesting that while some are very dependent on platforms, others are not. Overall, we find that while platforms themselves are part of the winner-takes-most concentration of attention overall on the internet, they simultaneously seem to contribute to less concentrated markets for attention to online news.