Making money from making news

Today, I hosted a seminar on my university department on current and future business models for the news industry – an industry which is under strong pressure from decreasing revenues, falling numbers of circulation, and troubles with monetization of online content. The title of the seminar was “New business models for the news industry”, I have mentioned it in earlier blog-posts here and here, and despite the grim picture which is often painted of the economical situation in the news business, the three speakers all saw potentials for making money from making news in the future.

There were to many good points and observations during the seminar for me to repeat all of them here, but I’ve put together a short summary of the day.

After my short introduction, the first invited speaker was Jens Barland from the University of Oslo who presented key findings from his PhD about how Verdens Gang and Aftonbladet generate revenues in an online environment. His presentation served as a kind of rehersal for the defence of his PhD dissertation Journalistikk for markedet [Journalism for the market] – a defense that will take place on Wednesday next week. If you’re in Oslo there, you shouldn’t miss Barland’s defense for his findings are highly interesting. A key finding of his was that initiatives to develop journalistic products don’t necessarily come from journalists anymore – on the contrary, they are often spurred by the desire to expand the product portfolio of media organizations. As an example, he mentioned Sofis mode, a magazine that Aftonbladet launched in order to reach the audience segment of adolescent girls with relatively good purchasing power. A particularly intriguing possibility, which Barland mentioned, was how news organizations might continue to give away news for free online in the future but that the access to the news might require login. This way, news organizations can generate detailed and personal data on usage and subsequently target their audiences even more directly that today with ads (think Facebook’s advertising model). I guess that when content is free, you (your data, attention, and information) really are the product.

A wrap-up (in Norwegian) of Barland’s conclusions can be found in a recent post on his blog.

The second speaker was Mads Vad Kristensen from Berlingske Media. Berlingske is one of the largest media organizations in Denmark and is owned by British corporation Mecom which seems, however, intended to sell off its Danish branch. This imminent sale means that profitability is even more important for Berlingske than it used to, and as such Kristensen’s presentation about the organization’s business models related to an agenda of immediate importance. Basically, Kristensen argued that it’s no problem earning money from news – the problem is that news is quite expensive to make, especially in the context of the small Danish-speaking area. But are people willing to pay what the news actually costs? Kristensen actually thought they would be if the news organizations provided them with content that met their demands. In order to do so, the news organizations should focus on five aspects, namely 1) excellence in their products, 2) individualized content where you get what you’re intested in, 3) better service for the customers, 4) testing the limits of own self-understanding, and 5) acknowledging that only the best is good enough.

The last speaker was Stig Kirk Ørskov who is the COO of JP/Politikens Hus and who started his presentation by saying that now was actually the best of times for journalism. According to him, 2010 and 2011 were the most profitable years for his news organization in a very long time, and with a variety of different platforms (print, web, and mobile) the journalistical content could find its way to the audiences anytime and anywhere. However, except for the websites of the organization are not yet profitable, and paywalls will be introduced as a solution for that; agreeing with Kristensen, Ørskov also expressed confidence in the readiness of the audience to start paying for online content. Speaking of paywalls, Ørskov emphasized that the three major publications of JP/Politikens Hus will probably follow different models: Politiken (the highbrow, liberal, cultural broadsheet) will go for the metered model that the New York Times is also using; Ekstra Bladet (the tabloid) will use the same model as Aftenbladet where some selected parts are within a paywall; and Jyllands-Posten (the more conservative broadsheet) would perhaps be something like the freemium model of the Wall Street Journal where the majority of the content remains available for free.

I think the seminar went pretty well with great speakers and good discussions in the Q&A session. Also, it was well-attended by both fellow researchers, students, and people from the news industry.

Update November 22, 2012: I earlier wrote that Jyllands-Posten would go for a “hard paywall” with all content locked away. This was, however, a misunderstanding from my part, and I have now corrected it.