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Interviewed on media innovation research

These weeks, I am at the Centre for Research on Media Innovations at Oslo University on a visiting fellowship. It is great, and I will write a blog post on it later when I get home to Denmark.

As a part of the visit, I was interviewed on Twitter about my research yesterday. (The interview was conducted by the centre’s official Twitter profile but with Ida Karine Gullvik at the keyboard.) Here, I have put together the whole interview so it can be read as one conversation rather than a number of scattered tweets.

Enjoy – and join the conversation.

Tweeps all Danish j-students should follow

Almost three years ago, I compiled a list of the best Danish Twitter profiles about #journalism. But things move fast online, so I thought now was the time to put together a new and updated list – and also tied it close to the list that was the inspiration for the original listing, namely Sarah Marshall’s list of “100 Twitter accounts every journalism student should follow“.

So, here it my list of 15 people on Twitter, every (Danish) journalism student should follow – either because they might know where the profession and the media business is heading or simply because they often say something meaningful of interest:

Furthermore, the Danish journalism students should follow the hashtags #SDUjour, #rucjour, and #DMJX which are used on the journalism educations.

Who did I forget?

Update April 16, 2015: In the discussion following the publication of this list, two Twitter accounts have been mentioned as someone I forgot but who rightfully deserves special mentioning:

So, now it’s a list of 15 + 2 Twitter accounts

My PhD dissertation available now

Just a public service announcement: I have now made my PhD dissertation News on the Web: instantaneity, multimodality, interactivity, and hypertextuality on Danish news websites available here on my website. As most of it is already published and the data aren’t getting any younger, there really is no point in not having it out there.

A large part of the dissertation consists of research articles, and most of those are now published in academic journals (in more or less revised versions):

Furthermore, parts of the theoretical introduction is commissioned as a book chapter for publication next year. I’ll post more on that here on the blog later.

If you want the printed-book version, it is for sale at Publikom at the price of 172.50 DKK (approx. 32 Euros/31 USD). For some reason, they haven’t added the dissertation to their online catalogue even though they sell it, so you’ll have to send them en email.

New publication: the state of online news

A piece of good news from the publications department: my new research article “Online news: between private enterprise and public subsidy” has just been published by the leading academic journal Media, Culture & Society. The article is co-authored together with Stig Hjarvard from the University of Copenhagen and examines the current economical state of the Danish press in light of recent developments with digital business models and changes subsidy frameworks and is part of a special section (edited by Philip Schlesinger and Alex Benchimol from the University of Glasgow) on media systems in small nations.

Here’s the abstract:

The Nordic countries’ media systems are exemplary of the democratic corporatist model, and newspapers have occupied a very prominent position in the political public sphere supported by wide circulation and a political will to subsidize the press and still keep an arm’s length distance. During past decades, these features have come under pressure due to – among other things – the spread of digital media. In this article, we explore two current structural economic challenges to legacy newspaper organizations in Denmark. The first challenge regards the implementation of subscription on news websites since 2013. The second challenge concerns the revision of the Danish press subsidy law in 2013–2014. The introduction of a ‘platform neutral’ subsidy law could be interpreted as a first step toward rethinking the entire press subsidies system. Taken together, these developments pose serious challenges to the printed press: on the one hand, no viable business model seems ready to replace the old one; on the other hand, a reorientation of the regulatory system, which subsidizes the press, seems under way. Despite the global nature of ongoing transformation (digitalization and commercialization), national particularities continue to influence developments and reflect continued support for the democratic corporatist model.

The article is published behind a paywall, but I can send you an early version upon request.

Jimmy Maymann, bringer of good news

This week, a superstar toured the Danish media organizations: Jimmy Maymann, the CEO of the Huffington Post. I had the privilege of attending his talk at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Southern Denmark (where I work) and of spending nearly one hour in an exclusive conversation with him and Gerd May and Filip Wallberg from Fynske Medier (an organization I’m currently researching).

Maymann, who is born and raised in Denmark, has a convincing case for what news organizations should do in order to make it in the digital age. While most of the news industry struggles (some even for survival), the Huffington Post thrives. The company currently has 10 national editions outside of the US, has more than 100 million unique visitors per a month, and is making money. In 2012, the Huffington Post was the first online-only medium to win a Pulitzer Prize.

From my point of view, there are a couple of reasons why Huffington Post performs extremely well.

  • They use data – a lot. It’s not that they only produce the journalism the readers want, such as slideshows of puppies and celebrities in awkward situations, but the presentation and the timing of the content is highly informed by user metrics. All journalists have dashboards to follow how their stories perform and are expected to use that information. Headlines are tweaked through A/B testing (or actually rather A/B/C/D/E/… testing).
  • They understand digital media. And have (so far successfully) thrown a large part of their chips into the baskets of social media, video, and mobile, and they acknowledge the importance of search-engine optimization even of the micro-level of the individual journalist’s everyday work.
  • They have momentum. They are expanding internationally (and enter the Indian market later this month). The Huffington Post is one of the places to be in the media business right now, so they are able to attract the best journalists whose mindset match the organization’s.
  • They get a lot of high-quality content for free. According to Maymann, the Huffington Post currently have around 80,000 blogs where, for example, experts and politicians contribute with content. That’s a very good base for generating traffic.
  • They “fail fast”. In its organizational mindset, the Huffington Post is intent on testing things – and that means that sometimes, things don’t work as well as expected. What the Huffington Post does right here is to accept such failure quickly, adapt to it, and move forward with that lesson learnt in the organization.

During the first two days of his visit in Denmark, Maymann had (recounting from my memory) at least six or seven professional engagements where he would talk about the success of the Huffington Post. In one sense, he’s an evangelist in a media business under pressure. ‘Evangelist’ comes from the Latin word ‘euangelion’, which means ‘good news’, and so an evangelist is, in the original meaning of the word, a bringer of good news.

If anything, Jimmy Maymann is considered by the Danish media a bringer of good news. He represents the hope that the current demise of media organizations can be turned around and that they can succeed. This perception of him – combined with the general tendency of Danes being interested in other Danes who have made it big abroad – means that Danish media have had a lot of interviews with Maymann on the news business, career, and entrepreneurship.

Ekstra Bladet uden for citat – a recent documentary about Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet – illustrates just how much influence Maymann (direct or indirect, willingly or not) has on the Danish media business.

Like all other print newspapers, Ekstra Bladet does not find itself in a good situation these years, and it’s struggeling to find out what to do. However, the documentary shows, on the basis of more or less only a one-hour meeting with Maymann (where he lays out the reasons for the success of the Huffington Post), editor-in-chief Poul Madsen and a couple of colleagues in the newspaper’s top management quickly decided that much of what Huffington Post does should also be the way forward for the newspaper. Video, mobile, and social media become central components in the new way of doing things. So strong is the belief in Maymann’s approach – or the willingness to believe – that one inspirational meeting was enough.

This anecdote is not unique to Ekstra Bladet. More or less every Danish media organization wants a piece of the Huffington Post and Maymann, of learning what they do.

What Ekstra Bladet and other Danish legacy media must remember is, however, that they are not in a position to just copy-paste the Huffington Post’s way of doing things. They operate in another market with a quite small language community, the employment and union structure and tradition in the Danish labor market is radically different, and – most importantly – they cannot just import the necessary mindset and culture from another organization.

There is no quick fix to the challenges currently facing the news industry, no matter how convincing the bringer of the good news is.

Disclaimer: I have not yet watched Ekstra Bladet uden for citat myself but have had this sequence retold by several people.

New York Times, Axel Springer buy into Blendle

Late yesterday evening, it was announced that news business behemoths The New York Times and the investment branch of Axel Springer purchase 23 % of Dutch start-up Blendle for three million Euros (in Dutch). This is not only good news for Alexander Klöpping and Marten Blankensteijn, who founded Blendle – it is also an interesting turn of events for people interested in business models in transition and the sales of online news.

Blendle is a digital “magazine stand” where users can buy individual articles from Dutch newspapers and magazines through a micro-payment program. It’s often referred to as the “iTunes for News” as you pay for what you actually read. The price per article is between 0.10 and 0.80 Euros. Launched in April 2014, Blendle has grown rapidly and currently has approximately 130,000 registered users20 percent of whom convert to paying users (you get free access to articles for 2.50 Euros when you sign up).

The blogpost-like announcement on Blendle.nl frames The New York Times and Axel Springer buying their way into Blendle as a way of broadening the start-up’s scope of operation internationally – and today, you can even sign up for news when you can become a customer (“We can notify you when we’re coming to your country”). This dimension is, obviously, a most important part of the story.

But I think there’s more to the acquisition than just that.

Both The New York Times and German publisher Axel Springer have already proved themselves adequate in terms of monetizing their online content. Ken Doctor says The New York Times generated $150 million in revenues from digital subscription in 2013 and it can, according to Ryan Chittum at the Columbia Journalism Review, be expected to make $170 million in 2014, $200 million by 2016. Axel Springer, on the other hand, managed to get more than 150,000 digital subscribers to BILDplus on only half a year, for example.

What neither The New York Times, nor Axel Springer have (to the best of my knowledge) is a micro-payment program. They have things in store for people who wants to subscribe to their journalistic products online – but they don’t have an offer for the occasional reader who is just interested in reading only one or two articles beyond what is allowed in metered models and similar arrangements. Buying parts of Blendle – including its knowledge of what works and their functional systems – might be a step towards expanding the giants’ online operations in that direction and reaching out to this kind of audiences, who are more interested in noncommittal single copy sales than in the binding relationship of subscriptions.

Posted earlier today on Paywall Watch.

Update October 27, 2014: In the discussion that followed on Twitter after me publishing this post, a number of good points and clarifications emerged:

1) Claes Holtzmann  asked whether The New York Times and Axel Springer’s new-found belief in micro-payment wouldn’t jeopardize their use of the metered model. He is, of course, right. If The New York Times, for example, gets full steam ahead into micro-payments, it will have a hard time maintaining its current (functioning) subscription model. My point, however, is not that it will adopt micro-payment in a larger scale – rather that it might also offer micro-payment options to some extent. For example, the large archive of the 163-years old newspaper probably contains stuff that it will be able to monetize this way. That would be a sort of “long tail” approach. And it’s important to remember, that things don’t have to be old to be part of the long tail; on the contrary, large news organizations can use it as a strategy to get a little (which is better than no) return-of-investment on articles with only a little readership.

2) Mads-Jakob Vad Kristensen correctly pointed out that this was also about The New York Times and Axel Springer buying access to Blendle’s knowledge about consumption patterns of news. He, too, is of course right. I should have mentioned that in my original post – but instead of rewriting it, I’ll just direct everyone to Mads’ own blog-post “Blendle belønner læsere af dårlig journalistik” (it’s in Danish). He writes it better.

3) Søren Pedersen noted that the “Blendle model” cannot possibly generate large revenues to publishers. I think the jury is still out on that one (though there can be no discussion that large audiences are needed), so I’ll just mention that of the revenues generated through Blendle, the original publishers get 70 percent, Blendle 30.

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.

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.

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.

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.