Hard times and a hard paywall in Kerteminde

On Saturday, one more Danish news website went from free to fee and launched digital subscription. The news website in question is that of Kjerteminde Avis, which is a hyperlocal one that serves the public of Kerteminde in the north-eastern corner of the Funen (approximately 24,000 citizens).

The outlook for the subscription model bringing economic salvation to the pressured local could be better, but American research as well as the development i Northern Norway can lead to cautious optimism.

Like other local or regional news websites, Kjerteminde Avis uses the hard paywall. Subscription now costs 20 DKK per month or 50 DKK for three months.

Being founded in 1879, Kjerteminde Avis has a long history. However, the last couple of years have been characterized by a transition to web-only publication, frequent shifts of editors-in-chief, and serious economic challenges; last year, the news website asked its readers for donations in order to make ends meet. The news website carries ads, predominantly from local businesses.

Donations and advertising, however, seem not to have been sufficient, and so the time has come for implementing proper digital subscription. In a situation of intense economic stress, that decision is understandable.

The news website aims at reaching 1,600 digital subscribers. That’s approximately seven percent of the population, and it’s an ambitious goal. Even if the news website succeeds in reaching that goal, however, it will be difficult to make the news production in Kerteminde economically viable. According to an earlier article in Kjerteminde Avis, the costs of producing the news website is a little more than 60,000 DKK per month. 1,600 subscribers and the current level of advertising will find only barely cover that expense. It will be an extremely tight budget where there’s no room for unexpected expenses or editorial development.

However, Kjerteminde Avis can find support in an experimental study from 2012. Here, Cook and Attari compared news users’ attitudes to the launch of digital subscription when told, respectively, that the subscription was justified in terms of building profits or of securing the survival of the news website in question. The results of the study suggest that users are more likely to accept digital subscription when the news medium communicates that it’s caused by questions of survival.

In its campaign leading up to the launch, Kjerteminde Avis has mentioned its dire economical situation repeatedly.

Furthermore, the small Funen news website can find comfort by looking north. In the Northern parts of Norway, hyperlocal thrive to such an extent that you can speak of a divided media marked.

On the one hand, there are the large newspapers published by national and transnational corporations. And on the other hand, there are small, hyperlocal newspapers that are only published to a very geographically limited audiences and that are owned locally. In their constellation, size, and target groups, these newspapers are very much like Kjerteminde Avis. In a study of this divided media market, Holand argues that the success of the hyperlocal newspapers is caused by support from the local community as well as public subsidies.

And that leads me to the reason why there could be hope for Kjerteminde Avis. The two sources for revenues used by the Norwegian newspapers are namely also the ones that it pursues: the support from local citizens (in terms of subscription) and local advertisers, and support through public subsidies. Later this Spring, the Danish Agency for Culture will announce who gets these subsidies in 2014, and Kjerteminde Avis has applied.

A few years ago, I interview the then editor-in-chief of Kjerteminde Avis for my PhD dissertation. He compared Kjerteminde Avis to the small village in the Asterix cartoons – the village that kept on fighting despite bad odds and a changing world order. The odds have not improved since then, and the hyperlocal news website might not get any more second chances it the economy does not get better (or at least stabilized) now. But as the research shows, that might not be impossible.

This post was written before the launch of the digital subscription on Saturday. However, Saturday afternoon, Kjerteminde Avis announced that it had reached 150 paying subscribers.

This post was originally published on Paywall Watch. A Danish-language and slightly edited version was published on MediaWatch today.

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Politiken adjust subscription model, two reasons why

Today, in an article in MediaWatch, Politiken announced that it’s going to adjust its digital subscription. Politiken currently has a metered model with free access to 25 articles per month and two types of subscription: one that costs 44 DKK monthly, and one that costs 66 DKK and also includes membership of the Politiken Plus shopping program.

With the adjustment announced today, the 44 DKK option is closed so that all subscribers must pay 66 DKK per month. Furthermore, the number of free articles will be reduced (even though it remains unclear just how big that reduction will be). The MediaWatch article does not specify when the adjustment will take place.

It’s hardly surprising that Politiken adjusts their digital subscription model this way. There are two reasons for this.

First, the difference between what Politiken and Berlingske, their most comparable competitor online, offer has been quite large. They both use the metered model, but while Politiken would monthly give away 25 article before charging 44 DKK, Berlingske only give free access to 10 articles before charging 79 DKK. The fact that there has been almost as many digital subscribers to Berlingske (who charges more for quantitatively less) indicates that Politiken could actually tweak their subscription model to the organization’s own benefit.

Second, The New York Times did the same. According to people within the organization, Politiken largely based their digital subscription strategy on that of the NYT, and almost exactly one year after the NYT launched their paywall (on April 12, 2012 – it was launched in March, 2011), they downsized the number of free articles from 20 to ten. In short, the strategy was to initially test the market and make the customers used to paying for online news – and then adjust the subscription model to one that would be commercially viable for the news organization. This modus operandi has now been reenacted by Politiken, the difference being that the Danish news organization conducted the adjust only eight months after the initial implementation.

This post was originally published on Paywall Watch.

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Softening a hard paywall

Today, Århus Stiftstidende announced that they had softened their hard paywall and switched their digital subscription to the metered model. In the future, users will have access to 10 articles free of charge each month before they are charged 79 DKK. This concrete subscription model is similar to the one used by Berlingske, the main news website of Berlingske Media that also owns Århus Stiftstidende.

That change was already announced last September and is not surprising as the news website has suffered severe traffic losses from the implementation of digital subscription back in November, 2012. Compared to October, 2012, the latest statistics from Danske Medier Research/Gemius (December, 2013) shows

  • a 62.7 percent drop in users (from 78,104 to 29,157),
  • a 71.1 percent drop in visits (from 575,402 to 166,153), and
  • a 72.4 percent drop in page views (from 2,754,062 to 760,804).

With such numbers, it’s hardly surprising that the hard paywall is now softened and replaced by the metered model. The question remains how free access - though limited – to content on the news website will affect traffic statistics.

It’s certainly a question I’ll return to later here on the blog; from a research perspective, Århus Stiftstidende how constitutes a most interesting opportunity for following and measuring in real-time the consequences of adjusting digital subscription.

This post was originally published on Paywall Watch.

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New website maps free-to-fee transition

These years, the news industry is in a transition period, moving away from the online business model based on offering news free of charge on their news websites. Instead, different subscription models are introduced across the board – on national as well as regional and local news websites. This transition is of most importance to the news industry as it is of vital economic importance for the news organizations that they manage to generate some sort of revenue from their online presence.

However, the knowledge of the consequences of this transition from free to fee is, at best, limited. There seems to be a lot of gut-feeling and guessing involved in the pricing of online news, and it is hard to pinpoint exactly what constitutes a reasonable number of subscribers. This paradox (between high importance and low knowledge) is at the core of my current research project on the digital business models of the press.

In connection with this project, I’ve now launched a new website called Paywall Watch. It will be a site for mapping and documenting the implementation of digital subscriptions on news websites, and my hope is that it will be a most useful resource for researchers, students, analysts, and practitioners within the news industry. The inspiration for the site is to websites is the online work conducted by Dr. Piet Bakker at his blogs Newspaper Innovation and Newspaper Statistics. On those sites, he continuously, meticulously, and thoroughly maps developments and statistics related to two quite specific areas – free dailies and newspaper readership, respectively. The ambition of Paywall Watch is to do the same, only with subscription models on news websites.

For now, the site will focus on Danish news websites only. It’s a question of resources, really, but hopefully it’ll expand its scope and have an international dimension. There is also a blog section which I expect to use down the line; but for now, my focus is on the mapping and documenting effort.

Paywall Watch is live now on http://paywallwatch.net/. Enjoy.

Update January 21, 2014: Two of the most important Danish sites with news on media and journalism have articles about Paywall Watch today. Click here for the articles on Journalisten.dk (actually a blog post written by me) and MediaWatch.

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Ezra Klein, Nate Silver, and DJ Tiësto

I’ve got a new post on Danish media site MediaWatch. It’s about how the most successful journalists build a personal brand that allows them to operate more freely than organizational actors are usually able to. Paraphrasing Mark Deuze, it mentions that their business model somewhat resembles that of music stars such as DJ Tiësto.

The post is in Danish and requires subscription. But exclusively for the readers of my blog, it’s also (as always) available here:

Fremtidens journalist er som DJ Tiësto

Journalister bliver i stigende grad løsttilknyttede, kreative medarbejdere. Det stiller krav til deres evne til at brande og kapitalisere sig selv, skriver Aske Kammer, adjunkt ved Center for Journalistik, SDU.

Journalister skal bygge deres egne brands og markedsføre sig selv på sociale medier. Det har vi hørt gentagne gange de seneste år. Nu understreger en aktuel sag fra de højere luftlag i den amerikanske mediebranche imidlertid, at der er tale om mere end blot en floskel.

Sagen har været relativt ubemærket i dansk sammenhæng men går i al sin enkelthed ud på, at den unge, amerikanske stjerne-skribent Ezra Klein efter sigende har truet med at forlade forlade The Washington Post. Her bestyrer han bloggen Wonkblog, som er en blanding af statistisk journalistik, analyse og holdningsbårne klummer, og som har særdeles gode besøgstal. Og så er han en gudsbenådet skribent – klar i mælet med en personlig stemme, skarp, kritisk, overvældende produktiv og har i skrivende stund 411.303 followers på Twitter.

Sagen er imidlertid den, at avisens ledelse efter sigende ikke har villet give Klein friere tøjler til at opbygge et nyt site med mere af det samme – men uden for Washington Posts ejerskab (avisen ejer Wonkblog). Kleins modtræk lader til at være, at han forlader avisen for selv at køre sitet, som han  - vel at mærke – angiveligt allerede har sikret solid økonomisk polstring.

Der er, som mine forsigtige formuleringer også afslører, mange usikkerheder og ubekendte i historien. Men selv hvis detaljerne viser sig ikke at holde vand, cementerer den ikke desto mindre på en tendens – nemlig at succesfulde journalister i stigende grad udgør et personligt brand, der fanger (medie-)interesse.

I særlige tilfælde er dette brand af en sådan kaliber, at den enkelte journalist kan skabe sig en karriere uden for den enkelte organisation. Klein er et eksempel på denne type journalist. Den amerikanske statistiker og skribent Nate Silver er et andet og mindst lige så bemærkelsesværdigt

Silver er statistik-nørden, som ved det amerikanske præsidentvalg i 2012 korrekt forudsagde resultaterne i samtlige delstater på sin blog FiveThirtyEight på The New York Times netavis.

Denne forudsigelse sikrede Silver øjeblikkelig berømmelse, og bloggen, hvor den løbende blev opdateret og justeret under valgkampen, var et vigtigt økonomisk aktiv for avisen; ifølge en artikel i det anerkendte magasin New Republic var op til hver femte besøgende på The New York Times’ netavis lige inde omkring Silvers blog i dagene omkring Obamas valgsejr.

Silvers historie rummer en klar parallel til Kleins. Da The New York Times i 2013 ikke indvilligede i at tilføre Silver yderligere ressourcer, så han kunne udbygge FiveThirtyEight-bloggen, rykkede han nemlig teltpælene op og tog den med til sportskanalen ESPN, hvor han nu analyserer baseball og amerikanske valg. Det er et tab for The New York Times – men ikke nødvendigvis for Nate Silver.

Pointen er, at hans personlige journalistiske brand er af en sådan værdi, at det rimeligt uproblematisk kan klare sig uafhængigt af medieorganisationerne. Hvis mediet ikke vil lege med, afsluttes samarbejdet.

Brandets værdi opstår gennem en kombination af indholdsproduktion af høj kvalitet og en sans for personlig branding og forretning; da det eksempelvis stod klart, at Silvers forudsigelse var korrekt i alle delstater, tweetede han med en kæk bemærkning en henvisning til sin bog på Amazon, hvorefter salget steg med omtrent 850 pct.. Det vigtige er kvaliteten, men markedsføringen af den er medvirkende til at sikre en skare af læsere, som trofast følger den enkelte journalist.

Vi kender også tendensen fra Danmark, hvor en person som Rune Lykkeberg (kulturredaktør på Politiken, red.) vel nok er en af de skrivende journalister, der pt. har det stærkeste personlige brand.

Men også journalister som Line Holm Nielsen (Berlingske, red.) og Kaare Sørensen (Jyllands-Posten, red.)er gennem bogudgivelser, højt-profilerede artikler og en særdeles offensiv tilstedeværelse på især Twitter godt i gang med at opbygge et personligt varemærke, som rækker ud over henholdsvis Berlingske og Jyllands-Posten.

Tendensen til, at journalister skaber deres eget brand er imidlertid ikke blot udsprunget af personlige ambitioner og de nye teknologiske muligheder for at positionere sig (eller score kassen). Den er også et udtryk for en tilpasning til strukturelle forandringer i mediebranchen.

Her er midlertidige ansættelser og projektansættelser blevet normen i et i stigende grad usikkert arbejdsmarked, hvor grænserne for, hvem der arbejder journalistisk, også er under udviskning. I et sådant arbejdsmarked er personlig branding og profilering en naturlig reaktion, ligesom det at være involveret i mange projekter på én gang er det.

Det har fået den hollandske medieforsker Mark Deuze til at bruge DJ Tiësto som et billede på den måde, journalister bør arbejde for at sikre sig en plads i fremtidens mediebranche.

Den hollandske dj tjener nemlig ikke kun til dagen og vejen gennem sin musik. Tværtimod har han gennem en stor og differentieret produktion (musik, koncerter, merchandise, etc.) og en flittig tilstedeværelse på eksempelvis sociale medier positioneret sig som en vigtig del af et netværk, hvor en stor gruppe mennesker er interesserede i det, han laver. Han har så at sige både skabt en butik og kunder til selvsamme butik.

Hvis vi drager en paralle til journalistisk arbejde, så handler det altså for den enkelte journalist om at slå sit navn fast med høj kvalitet (gerne på en række forskellige platforme) og kapitalisere på det på alle tænkelige måder.

Så i fremtiden vil den succesfulde journalist altså ikke være den, der skriver eller producere til ét medie, men derimod den som kan omstille sig, producere indhold til en række forskellige private og organisatoriske platform, markedsføre sig selv og – i udtrykket allermest bogstavelige betydning – sælge varen.

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“Journalism in an industry”, special issue

Journalistica 1-2013In Danish newsrooms, a saying goes that “we don’t produce a newspaper in order to make money. We make money, so that we can produce a newspaper.” The idea is to signal how publicist considerations are more important than commercial ones in a news organization, and how selling news is only a means to undertake news production.

In recent years, we have, however, witnessed a change in that perception. Newsrooms as well as journalism research have increasingly been oriented towards the economic framework of news production. It’s a shift in focus which is caused, to a large extent, by the economic crisis of the news industry – and it is also the subject of a recently published special issue of academic, peer-reviewed journal Journalistica, which I have edited. The special issue corresponds with my current research into the digital business models of the press and also ties in with a seminar I arranged back in 2012.

The headline of the special issue is “Journalism in an industry“, and the theme section consists of one introduction and five research articles:

  • Aske Kammer: Introduktion: Journalistik i en industri [Journalism in an industry; in Danish]
  • Jonas Ohlsson: De svenska tidningsstiftelserna: Partipressens sista bastion? [Swedish newspaper foundations - the last stand of the party press?; in Swedish]
  • Piet Bakker: The life cycle of a free newspaper business model in newspaper-rich markets
  • Astrid Marie Holand: Et delt mediemarked: Prosesser som fremmer små aviser [A divided media market; in Norwegian]
  • Jens Barland: Innovasjon av inntekter: Journalistikk som bygger kunderelasjoner [Innovation of revenues; in Norwegian]
  • Ingela Wadbring: Journalists care about commercialization

In addition to the theme section, the issue also contains a number of articles (mostly in Danish). The journal is published open access, so all articles can be read free of charge. Enjoy.

Update January 11, 2014: Some of the research articles have resonated with people “out there”. Piet Bakker’s article received a very nice mentioning on the Nieman Journalism Lab website, while Jannie Møller Hartley’s article on hierarchies in news organizations (article not in the theme section) was discussed on the dSeneste blog (Danish).

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24 on journalism

This December, I’ve counted down to Christmas by tweeting one (in one instance: four) great piece on journalism, news, or the media each day. I’ve used the hashtag #24onjournalism and hope my followers have enjoyed this little countdown nearly as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together.

If you’re not familiar with Twitter, or you just want the full overview of the content of this Christmas calendar in collected in one place – here you go:

Happy Holidays.

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New publication: terrorism in real-time

As I hinted in an earlier blog post, I’ve had an important publication coming up.

Now, I’m happy to be able to announce that “Terrorisme i realtid: 22. juli 2011 i danske og norske netaviser” [Terrorism in real-time: July 22, 2011, on Danish and Norwegian news websites] has just been published in academic journal Norsk Medietidsskrift. It’s the second research article of my PhD dissertation on news on the web.

Here’s the abstract:

In cases of emergent crises, news media undertake an important societal function by providing the public with timely and correct information. Using the terrorist attack in Norway on July 22, 2011, as case, this article analyzes how Danish and Norwegian news websites cover emergent crisis in real-time. First, the article analyzes whether this coverage made use of the affordances of news websites (instantaneity, multimodality, interactivity, and hypertextuality). Second, it analyzes the accuracy of the coverage. The conclusion is that the real-time coverage both used the affordances and was accurate, suggesting that digital journalism managed to undertake its societal function during the terrorist attack.

The article is in Danish, but an early, English version can be mail available upon request.

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My assistant professorship

I’ve been off the blog for quite a while. One of the reasons is that I’ve been quite busy – for example with changing to a new job. So, this blog post will be a very short description relating to what I’ll be doing over the next three years.

Monday last week, I started in a new position as Assistant Professor in Digital Journalism at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Southern Denmark. As I’ve written my PhD on web-based journalism and have a particular interest in the intersection between digital media and journalism, this position is nothing short of perfect for me academically.

I’ll be working on two research projects mainly:

The first project, which I’m starting these days, is about the digital business models of the press. To what extent is digital subscription implemented? What is the consequences in terms of audience traffic, revenue and profit generation, and the continuing organizational adaptation to the digital environment? The scope is Danish but the implications are international.

The second project, which will start late next summer, is about journalists’ behavior on social media (Twitter) and how this (perhaps) affect the professional role of journalism. How do journalists manage the relationship between private, personal, and professional when speaking in social media rather than traditional ones? The scope is primarily Danish but with a considerable internationally comparative dimension to it.

In addition to researching, I’ll teach a few courses over the next couple of years, organize a PhD seminar called “Journalism in the digital age”, and write a textbook on digital journalism. Plus whatever exciting opportunities show themselves along the way, of course. Plenty of exciting work to do!

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Journalism’s struggle for legitimacy

New post on MediaWatch (behind paywall and in Danish):

Journalistikken kæmper for sin egen legitimitet

Når DR sætter Martin Krasnik til skyde skarpt mod sin egen chef om exitpoll-fadæsen, er det et eksempel på, hvordan medierne i stigende grad kæmper for at forsvare deres egen troværdighed, skriver Aske Kammer, ph.d. og ekstern lektor.

Den famøse exitprognose, som DR offentliggjorde ved sidste uges kommunalvalg, har fået megen opmærksomhed i medierne: Den ramte langt forbi det endelige valgresultat, kan have påvirket vælgerne og gav ikke mindst Socialdemokraternes formand fejlagtigt stof til en taber-tale

Men exit-fadæsen rummer også et andet perspektiv: Efterdønningerne er blevet endnu et eksempel på, hvordan medier og journalister i stigende grad kæmper aktivt for deres troværdighed.

Dagen efter kommunalvalget interviewede Deadline-vært Martin Krasnik DR’s daværende nyhedschef (og altså Krasniks egen chef) Jakob Kwon om sagen. Og Krasnik gik til stålet med særdeles kritiske spørgsmål.

Interviewet blev selvfølgelig nævnt på både sociale og traditionelle medier (det vanlige ”Sådan, Krasnik!”, osv). Men de mere principielle fortolkninger er blevet forbigået.

Journalistikken og nyhedsmedierne er magtfulde institutioner. De er borgernes primære bindeled til den politiske offentlighed, og kan (og skal) sætte spot på urent trav hos de formelle og uformelle magthavere.

I bogen ’Hvor kommer nyhederne fra?’ fra 2009 fremfører mediejournalist Lasse Jensen dog den kritik, at medierne glemmer at rette kanonen mod en vigtig magthaver: Journalistikken selv. Der skrives meget om mediernes strukturer, økonomi, osv., men meget lidt om selve journalistikken, skriver Jensen.

Det kan der være mange gode grunde til. Men det ændrer ikke ved, at det har været uklart, hvem (om nogen) der har vogtet vogterne. Der har naturligvis været Pressenævnet, men dets rolle og ikke mindst (mangel på) slagkraft har været en tilbagevendende debat i mediebranchen – og kritik fra politisk hold.

2013 har imidlertid budt på flere bemærkelsesværdige eksempler på, at journalist-standen vender det kritiske blik mod andre journalister:

Hos Zetland skrev Ida Nyegård Espersen en single om BT’s redaktør Simon Andersen, hvor sammenblandingen af private, professionelle og politiske interesser blandt journalister blev fremhævet.

I fagbladet Journalisten skrev Rune Skyum-Nielsen og Emil Ellesøe Ditzel i en særdeles kritisk artikel, hvordan Dan Tschernia angiveligt kørte TV 2 Lorry lige på kanten af reglerne.

I kølvandet på Krasniks meget omtalte interview med formanden for Trykkefrihedsselskabet, Lars Hedegaard, interviewede TV 2’s Poul Erik Skammelsen som gæstevært på Deadline Krasnik om journalistisk metode og rimelighed.

Og nu udspørger Krasnik altså sin egen chef uden at lægge fingrene imellem.

Disse eksempler er ikke blot interessante, fordi de giver et indblik i en kulørt, magtfuld og lukket medieverden. De er også interessante i en større sammenhæng, fordi de kan ses som eksempler på journalistikkens kamp for at fastholde sin legitimitet.

Når politikere og andre magthavere konstant udfordrer journalisternes arbejde, angriber det mediernes vederhæftighed. Jyske Banks aggressive strategi i forhold til DR’s dokumentarserie om skattefifleri er et aktuelt eksempel. Selvom det ligger i journalistikkens DNA stille spørgsmål til andres troværdighed, så tærer det alligevel, når der offentligt og ved gentagne lejligheder sættes spørgsmålstegn ved mediernes egen troværdigheden.

Som jeg ser det, kan de kritiske portrætter og historier om journalistikken, dens personer og virksomheder, forstås som et tegn på, at medierne er blevet sig dette bevidst: De er nødt til at forsvare deres egen legitimitet. De må åbne op og vise sig villige til at underkaste sig selv og sine egne den samme behandling, de samme krav om transparens, som de udsætter andre for.

På den måde er den kritiske journalistik om journalistik ikke kun samfundsrelevant stof, der forholder sig til en af de magtfulde institutioner. Det er også små fægtninger i kampen om, hvilken plads og legitimitet journalistikken fremover kan påberåbe sig

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