Digital Publishers in Pakistan are Facing the Worst Time of Their Lives

In an article I penned for ProPakistani in 2010, I discussed a stark disparity in online revenue between Pakistani and U.S. websites. Despite having comparable audience sizes and traffic volumes, Pakistani sites earned a fraction—specifically, 32 times less—of what their American counterparts brought in.

Over the past decade and a half, this revenue gap has persisted, posing significant challenges for Pakistani digital media companies. Today, the situation has deteriorated further, making it incredibly difficult to sustain operations when catering predominantly to a Pakistani audience.

For those unfamiliar with the mechanics of digital advertising, websites generate income by displaying ‘ads’ to visitors. For example, on platforms like ProPakistani, you often encounter numerous banner ads. These ads are typically managed by Google, which pays the websites based on the number of ads displayed each month.

When an ad is shown to a Pakistani user, the website earns less than 10 cents for 1,000 ad views. To put it into perspective, if a webpage contains five banner ads, 1,000 ad views generate around 10 cents or even less. In contrast, if the same ads were shown to a U.S. user, the website could earn over $2 for 1,000 ad views.

ProPakistani, for instance, receives over 90% of its millions of visitors from within Pakistan, resulting in very low total earnings. This scenario is similar for many other media companies with a majority Pakistani audience, such as Express Group, Jang Group, UrduPoint, HamariWeb, and PakWheels.

Clearly, Pakistani audiences generate significantly lower revenue for publishers, a trend that has persisted since the advent of the internet in Pakistan. Recently, however, the situation has deteriorated further. Google does not have enough ads to show to Pakistani audiences, leaving many ad slots unfilled.

When there are no ads to display, the publisher earns zero revenue.

Shockingly, around 70% of the ad inventory for Pakistani digital publishers goes unfilled on average.

Shockingly, around 70% of the ad inventory for Pakistani digital publishers goes unfilled on average.

This leaves only 30% of the ad slots available for publishers to generate income from, and even these slots have very low payout rates.

While low fill rates aren’t new, having up to 70% unfilled ads—and up to 80% for content in Urdu—is unprecedented.

The sluggish economy and reduced budgets from advertisers are major factors contributing to this dire situation. And unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a short-term solution.

In comparison, the fill rates aren’t as bad in other regions like India or the Middle East, making this a uniquely Pakistani problem that will require localized solutions if any exist.

One potential solution is direct sales, meaning selling ads directly to local advertisers instead of relying on Google. However, the demand from local advertisers is almost non-existent, given the current supply.

This tough environment is likely the reason why new digital publishers are scarce, especially those who rely on bootstrapping or don’t have substantial financial backing. This has a dampening effect on the entire digital publishing industry in Pakistan; and that’s why it has to change.

This clearly can’t continue for a long.

I welcome your thoughts and insights in the comments on why and how this situation has become so critical. I will share my thoughts on the matter in my next post, coming soon, InshAllah.

The author is the founder of ProPakistani and is currently part of, an ad-tech company that focuses on helping publishers increase their ad revenue.

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Tech and telecom reporter for over 15 years

  • Seedi Baat no Bakwas, Jitni Jaldi ho sake to Realize ker lo, Imran Khan is the BRAND and Step into to Politics news as well, Otherwise you will have to stop this project,
    If you step into Politics news, and put mostly articles on Imran Khan you will get traffic from all over the world. meri is opinion se apka kaam tab tk chal sakta ha jab tk IK is Living on this planet :-p

    Rest of all the options will not work until you have PPP and PLM-N in your Government Seats…

    • Bhai, you didn’t get the point I think. Even if you get traffic, regardless of how, there are no advertisers in the market to fill your ads.

      More than 70 percent of ad slots go unfilled.

      • I understand your point of as well. I was also getting earning from AdSense in 2001-2005 when I was student in College, But I got realized that I cannot get much until I work on topics which got traffic from outside the Pakistan even holding a domain which is dedicated for Pakistan, like .pk domain, But You need to shift your paradigm and some business directions as per needs for sustainability. Like I would prefer to start some High profit business ideas to you here that wil surely blowup your revenue in few months. Just Add some subdomains based on this and add them up in your business line.

        1- Hosting and Servers for Websites
        2- Custom Jewelry
        3- Ware Houses
        4- Streaming Site like Netflix on Small Scale
        5- IPTV

        There are so many like them, If you need my help regarding this You have already email in your records. :)

        • You have got a point, but not everyone would want to go for e-commerce or streaming businesses.

          One way of fixing above problem is to get into new verticals, but how about finding a solution?

    • Hahaha, Youthion ki zindagi kitni aasaan hai, har maslay kaa aik hi hal Imran Phakki!

    • Absolutely agree. I am an overseas Pakistani and v v much interested in reading articles mentioning Imran Khan despite bundles of irrelevant ads.

  • Then stop making stuff up . Stop spreading fake news.

    Also media is a stooge now. So wants to listen to propaganda 24/7 ??

  • we are stuck in a vicious cycle jiska end result poor quality and low payout he rahega. environment he positive nhe h koi aik kul bhe sedhe nhe k kisi cheZke. still wish u best of luck

    • You rightly pointed out, the outcome of low revenue is the low quality, and it’s depressing.

  • It means there are more layoff expected in the coming time for digital media publishers?

    • Mainstream media companies employ and run their online presence as a filler, and mostly use reporting staff from their print and electronic arms.

      But privately owned media groups with online only presence are feeling the pressure.

      They aren’t hiring anyone, if not firing as of yet.

  • One major reason for missing adslots is marketing via social media platforms. Maintaing a product webpage and then market it via ads manager is alot more organic and easy to adopt. Alot of startups/non startups are promoting/marketing their projects/products via facebook ads and the organic reach for those ads is just fantastic. So unless you can bring some really strong alternate to it via website marketing the problem will persist. The gap between social media marketing vs website marketing will keep on growing.

    • Yea this has to be dealt as well. Publishers need to come up with better and different offerings, as they need to compete (read match if not outmatch) with the ROI that Facebook or TikToks of today are offering to remain in the race.

      They can do so by offering long form and more analytical, actually valuable content, to set them apart and keep themselves relevant.

      Not only that, publishers also need to work on optimizing their inventories, gathering more information about users and capitalizing this info to sell ads better than now.

    • Just to be clear, it’s industry wide issue and not specific to a single publisher.

      Sponsors atay hongay inko, lakin aik revenue stream — which historically has remained the major source of income for publishers — is depleting.

      And mazay ki baat hay iss ka solution (to an extent) available hay. We will discuss it soon inshAllah.

  • As a digital publisher, I think the main reason is Our Local Pakistani brands do not use Google Ads. they are more focus on FB and Instagram. The same situation is on YouTube. If you have a Pakistani Audience in YT Channel. You will get paid in pennies. There was good earning during COVID days because Pakistani brands was trying for online advertisement. Currently only international brands working in Pakistan are using google ads.

    • Yes YouTube earnings are at all time low as well. But unfortunately, it’s a third party and hence you are fully dependent on Google in terms of how your revenues will perform.

      In case of websites, they have got more control and ways in how and at what cost they could sell their inventories.

      So yea, for YouTubers, it’s even worse.

  • It’s time to shift from blogging to E-commerce sites. Especially chat GPT created a very critical role in blogging. Blogging is not as easy as it was before 2023. Google is applying stringent rules and policies that create problems for the blogger. And i think it is a great time to leave the blogging industry. Even though YouTube is becoming the number one search engine in terms of traffic, views, and revenue.

    Back in the day, when people like Brian Dean (Owner of Backlinko) used to write and share his SEO knowledge, but now things have changed. Bloggers are facing many problems.

    Some of them are:

    Bots like Chat GPT & Gemini are getting more clicks than the websites.
    Google releasing more core updates.
    Adroit people are using publisher tools to produce content in bulk.
    Ad slots are unfilled (as you mentioned.)
    Ad prices like CPC, and CPM are very low. So on and on.

    Even though AI writing tools have eaten the jobs of writers in Pakistan. Bloggers are preferring tools over human writers.

    • As I responded to a comment above, one way to address a problem is to turn a deaf ear to it and move on to the next thing.

      Digital media is evolving and is needed just like any other form of media (print or electronic).

      With declining print circulation and decreasing TV watch time, news companies that operate on the web have a more important role to play.

      While the way news companies operate has been evolving for centuries—for example, there was a time when drummers were used in towns to spread the King’s message—the importance and necessity of media companies is not going away.

  • Seedha advergic par post likh dete. Ye itni lambi tamheed bandhne ki kia zarurat thi. One of the reasons why I always read this clickbait / copypaste website with adblocker on.

    • Thora ghumata nahi tu app comment kaisay kartay haha

      Kidding. Sir it’s a sequel and will involve a series of posts to discuss a very serious issue.

      I am hoping to highlight this for a wider audience, at least.

  • I believe SETH AWARENESS is more you need to focus to get local ads, you have to be physically present in High end exhibitions to teach “SETHS” who are mostly in 60s that now people see news websites more than the news channel or physical newspaper also you need sales team to sell your ads. This is my point of view and you may disagree.

    • I agree. Seths don’t understand the new media as well as multinationals, telcos etc.

  • Amir i would highly appreciate you for being one the best writer and beyond answering the questions. Really like the professionals you have and i’m also agree with you on points you raised in the article.

  • I might be one of few old readers of propakistani since it’s early days. But now I personally believe this platform needs reforms in certain fields. You have to shift you focus on other platforms as well. While the content on YT is not as much appealing although you have a professional team of editors. What went wrong? Learn from other digital media influencers. Likewise, readers loves to read editorials but on your platform you people are only covering the very short stories. There are other factors also which definitely requires special attentions.

    • Second thought you should also add some educational stuff on this platform. Add quizzes and trivias on current affairs/issues.
      Your main focus is on just Pakistan affairs. Meanwhile the world topics goes uncovered/not presented in detailed way.
      It would also be better to get stories/editorials from the opionion makers/experts of dawn/TheNews etc.

      In the end polish your team and trained them to be more better to get cover detail aspects of stories.

      • Thank you for the input. I am sure ProPakistani team is listening here. I have raised this with them lately as well.

        P.S. I am no more in control at ProPakistani, for operations or for any other functionality.

  • The only viable solution to this issue is direct selling. Publishers must evolve from merely selling ad slots to offer advertisers sophisticated targeting capabilities. By providing tailored advertising options publishers can attract higher CPM rates and significantly enhance their revenue potential.

    • Valid points raised here.

      Here publishers are at a disadvantage, they usually don’t have user profiles available with them and hence can offer very limited targeting.

      Platforms like Facebook and TikTok or YouTube will always win when it comes to targeting and segmentation.

      Btw publishers can offer targeting, such as geo location, user network, and more. However readers’ behaviors and buying patterns are not available to publishers.

      Having said that, there is something where publishers can win, and that’s content.

      If you look around, the quality and depth of content that’s produced in Pakistan is pretty standard and lacks the wow factor.

      So yes, more investments on content is needed to create USPs, to ultimately compete with social platforms.

  • I agree with ‘Azee’ that you need to rethink the business direction.

    From my perspective, you are sitting on a diamond mine selling coal!

    Dive deeper into your internal data. Figure out the perfect positioning for the new subbrand(s).

    Give your team a brainstorming assignment. Brainstorm something at the intersection of some of the following:

    OLX, Zameen, Daraz, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Craigslist, Rozee/LI, McKinsey, Advergic, Google News, ProPakistani, NatGeo, NichePursuits, Careem, Khaadi/Outfitters/Maria B/MTJ/J. etc., Twitter, Coursera/KhanAcademy, Myco, Chaiwala/Air Pakistan/ProductHunt, Alkhidmat/Alhuda, Disqus/Discord, Statista/Crunchbase, etc.

    Feel free to email me about how it goes. I’d love to know and maybe offer some help.

    Also, how many of the above did you hear for the first time?

  • I have two suggestions:

    1. Focus on interesting & video content too. It’s not necessary that it align with current ProPakistani website content. It can be different. For example, podcasts, documentaries, etc.

    2. Try paywall for some content on the website. Profit magazine (Pakistan today) and Data Darbar are doing it. It’s important that the content must be unique and well-researched. For example, data-driven insights, exclusive interviews etc.

  • Why don’t you guys have archives like other sites? It took me like a dozen clicks to find this article, accidentally.

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