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.

This post was originally published on my (now defunct) other website 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.

“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).

From journalism to paparazzi reality

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

Fra journalistik til Paparazzi-reality

Ekstra Bladets nye web-tv-format ‘Paparazzi’ er endnu et eksempel på, at aviserne går ud over kerneydelserne for at hente læsere. Og kommercielt rummer 24-timers kendis-format interessante perspektiver.

Ekstra Bladets nye tv-satsning ’Paparazzi’ er et web-tv-format, hvor en kendt person i 24 timer følges af et kamerahold, hvis optagelser streames live på Eb.dk.

Det er altså et format, der lokker med at give et blik ind i den ægte privatsfære bag facaden. Som sådan har det meget til fælles med populære reality-formater på de kommercielle tv-kanaler – ikke mindst ’Haps! Du er fanget’ på Kanal 4 og Kanal 5, hvor værtinden Annette Heick lænkede sig sammen med andre kendte og fulgte dem i tykt og tyndt. Første afsnit af ’Paparazzi’ er næsten reality i anden potens; første “offer” er nemlig – meget symptomatisk – Mascha Vang, der i sin tid blev kendt ved at deltage i 1. sæson af ’Paradise  Hotel’.

Det er på flere måder interessant, at Ekstra Bladet producerer et format som ‘Paparazzi’. Helt overordnet er det et tydeligt eksempel på, hvordan nyhedsorganisationer i disse år bevæger sig væk fra kerneydelsen og begynder at varetage medieproduktion i bredere forstand. Tiden, hvor en redaktion blot lavede dagens avis, og så var det det, er endegyldigt forbi.

Vi har i mange år set nyhedsorganisationer sprede deres aktiviteter bredt – ofte ud over områder, der ikke er strengt nyhedsrelaterede, men fungerer som annonce- eller trafikheste. JP/Politikens Hus har således andele i Bilzonen og har netop opkøbt hele Jobzonen, mens Berlingske Medias driver Sweetdeal, hvor kunderne kan få rabat på alt fra hårkure til kroophold.

Men det er alligevel noget nyt, at en avisredaktion udvides med en decideret underholdningsgren, som ’Paparazzi’ synes at være udtryk for.

Udvidelsen synes at give særligt god mening i et kommercielt perspektiv. Selvom produktionen af ’Paparazzi’ sandsynligvis er relativt bekostelig, er den for det første med til at cementere Eb.dk’s førerposition inden for dansk  web-tv. Flere mediebureauer forventer, at netop web-tv fremover vil blive et fremtrædende element på netaviserne, og at det er her, annoncemidlerne i vid udstrækning kommer til at ligge.

I en branding-sammenhæng er det næppe helt tosset at satse på web-tv, der kan trække et større publikum til siden. Ifølge Ekstra Bladet selv har premiere-udgaven således været i kontakt med brugere over 250.000 gange, hvilket må siges at være ganske pænt.

For det andet kan de 24 timers optagelse klippes op og pakkes til en lang række mindre artikler, der hver især kan generere trafik på netavisen. Vel at mærke trafik, hvor publikum bliver længere på siden end ellers. Der er altså tale om en form for økonomisk ræsonabel synergi-strategi, hvor det samme indhold kan genbruges og præsenteres flere gange i forskellige indpakninger.

Og for det tredje sender Ekstra Bladet med et tiltag som ’Paparazzi’ et klart signal til de andre aktører inden for kendis-/sladder-mediemarkedet om, at det ikke er et område, man har tænkt sig at overlade til de kulørte ugeblade (der dog ligesom de trykte aviser taber læsere såvel som oplag) og blogs.

Det kan måske være nødvendigt med et sådan signal i en tid, hvor blogs i hvert fald internationalt synes toneangivende og stjæle sladdertrafik fra de etablerede medier, og hvor Danmarks førende sladderblad ’Se og Hør’ opruster digitalt med Ekstra Bladets tidligere redaktionschef Niels Pinborg som ny mand i chefstolen.

Who will pay for online news?

Today, MediaWatch has published a new article by yours truly (in Danish) about the possible audiences for online news behind paywalls:

Hvem skal aviserne sælge netnyheder til?

Forskning viser, at  de unge læsere er en god og en dårlig nyhed for netaviserne med betalingsmure, skriver ph.d. Aske Kammer.

Efter lang tids forberedelse har Politiken i dag trykket på knappen og rejst en betalingsmur omkring deres netavis, Politiken.dk. Dermed er indholdet på de fleste store danske netaviser nu–  i varierende grad – låst inde, ude af rækkevidde for alle os, der ellers har nydt godt af den gratis adgang til online-nyheder siden netavisernes gennembrud i Danmark i sidste halvdel af 1990’erne.

Spørgsmålet er imidlertid, hvad nyhedsorganisationerne kan forvente sig af betalingsmurene – og det vender jeg tilbage til efter et kort overblik.Men lad det opmuntrende være sagt allerede her i indledningen: Ny forskning peger på, at en specifik gruppe af læsere faktisk er indstillet på at betale for online indhold.

Overordnet kan man skelne mellem tre arkitektoniske stilarter inden for betalingsmure:

  • Den første er den såkaldte metered model, som New York Times er det prototypiske eksempel på. Her er et vist antal artikler gratis for de enkelte læsere i løbet af en vis periode, men hvis de vil vide mere, skal der købes adgang. Det er den model, Politiken.dk kommer til at køre efter. Berlingske arbejder med samme model men har efter lidt startvanskeligheder udskudt rejsegildet et par måneder.
  • Den anden model er den premium-model, som Jyllands-Posten og Ekstra Bladet bruger. Her skal der betales for ekstra indhold af særlig høj kvalitet (dybdeborende journalistik, multimedie-præsentationer, Side 9-piger, osv.). De to aviser understreger, at nyhederne forbliver gratis, mens alt andet koster.
  • Og endelig er den tredje model den ”hårde betalingsmur”, som lokalaviserne i Midtjyske Medier benytter. Her kræver al adgang til netavisernes indhold som udgangspunkt betaling.

Politiken og de andre aviser befinder sig imidlertid, med al respekt, ikke i samme internationale kategori som New York Times – de har eksempelvis ikke et globalt digitalt publikum – og det store spørgsmål er, hvad der nu kommer til at ske.

Kommer betalingsmurene til at generere en højst tiltrængt omsætningsindsprøjtning til de danske nyhedsorganisationer, eller vil de først og fremmest holde læsere ude?

Formår nyhedsorganisationerne at balancere det fald i web-trafik, man alt andet lige må forvente, med den øgede indtægt pr. betalende læser, betalingsmurene vil medføre?

Disse kernespørgsmål for forretningsmodellens fremtid er der, mig bekendt, endnu ikke erfaringer nok til besvare endegyldigt.

En relativ ny undersøgelse giver dog et fingerpeg om, hvad nyhedsorganisationerne kan forvente af betalingsmurene.

Der er tale om et studie, der er udført af de to amerikanske forskere Hsiang Chyi og Angela Lee.

Studiet viser, at særligt to forhold hver især har en ganske positiv afsmitning på betalingsvilligheden ved online indhold.

Den første er alder: Yngre voksne (18-34 år) er nemlig mere tilbøjelige til at ville betale for online indhold (herunder nyheder) end ældre aldersgrupper. Og eftersom de unge jo vokser op og bliver ældre og forbliver mediebrugere i længere tid end dem, der nu er ældre, kan dette forskningsresultat tolkes således, at medieorganisationerne på længere sigt vil få et mere betalingsvilligt publikum.

Det andet afgørende forhold er interessen for nyheder i det hele taget: Folk, der i forvejen har en stor interesse for nyhedsstof, er nemlig mere tilbøjelige til at acceptere at skulle betale for online-nyheder end andre (hvilket måske ikke i sig selv er vældigt overraskende).

I kombination med pointen omkring alder stiller dette andet forhold imidlertid nyhedsorganisationerne i et dilemma. For unge mennesker er, som forskerne også skriver, desværre normalt mindre interesserede i nyheder end andre dele af befolkningen. Så dem, der egentlig er mest positive overfor at betale for indhold på web og internet, er samtidig kun i ringe grad interesserede i i første omgang at læse nyheder online. Men hvis de var det, ville de gerne betale.

De konkrete erfaringer med betalingsmure er forskellige, og der hersker stadig tvivl om, hvorvidt de kan løse nyhedsorganisationernes økonomiske udfordringer. Men hvis Chyi og Lee har ret, kan en løsning måske ligge i at gøre de unge voksne mere interesserede i at læse nyheder på nettet – som den amerikanske mediekommentator Ken Doctor siger i dagens udgave af Politiken: ”Jeg anbefaler alle at begynde at lave aggressive planer for at skaffe nye og yngre læsere”.

Det ser nemlig ud til at være dem, der i videst udstrækning vil kunne finde på at finde Dankortet frem i første omgang, hvis de besøger netaviserne.

CfP: The business models of journalism

I recently joined the editorial board of Journalistica, the Danish journal for journalism studies. One of my first actions as editor has been to suggest a theme issue of the journal about the business models of journalism – a suggestion which my fellow editors agreed upon. This theme issue will relate to some of the most important questions in current news production – most importantly, how journalism is financed, and how it will be so in the future. These are questions that was addressed on the “New business models for the news industry” seminar, which I arranged on the University of Copenhagen last November, and now this theme issue will be an interesting venue for continuing this work; and hopefully so with a broad range of fellow researchers.

Topics of interest for the theme issue include (but are not limited to):

  • Institutional changes in the news market
  • Ownership and its consequences
  • Public and private subsidies to news media
  • Google, Facebook, and other new, commercial actors in the news business
  • Payment models for online news
  • Free news and changes in news consumption
  • Audience segmentation
  • The economy of journalistic start-ups, blogs, websites with niche news, etc.
  • Commercialization of news values

We currently have some problems with the journal’s website, but here, you can read the full CfP (English version). Deadline for submissions is May 1, and publication is scheduled for December 2013. Contributions may be in Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish) or English and should not exceed 35,000 keystrokes.

PS: you can get future news, calls for papers, and announcements via Journalistica’s Facebook site.

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 Journalisten.no 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 EkstraBladet.dk 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.

New business models for the news industry – update

As I advertised in an earlier blog-post, I’m hosting a seminar on the business models of the news industry this November. However, I just realized that I had noted a wrong date in the blog-post – the correct day is November 21, 2012, but it’s still from 1pm to 3.30pm.

Also, there has been a slight change of the program of the seminar as Pernille Tranberg from Berlingske Media was unable to attend. Instead, I’m happy to announce that Mads Vad Kristensen, who is digital director, will represent Berlingske Media and make us all a little wiser concerning the financial strategies and approaches of the Mecom-owned media organization. An organization, which rumor has it is currently being prepared for sale… Such a move would only make the monetizing capacity of the organization even more important.

All in all, it’s going to be an amazing seminar that brings together the best of Academia and the news industry. Attendance is free, registration not necessary. And here is the short pitch:

For several years, the traditional business models of news organizations have been under pressure; news organizations’ earnings from advertising or subscription have decreased as a lot of the public’s news consumption has moved from print to online sources, and the financial crisis has weakened revenue possibilities further. As such, news organizations have had to rethink their business models, and their conclusions and strategies for monetizing the online audience vary. Even so, it remains an open question what the business models for the future of the news industry look like and how they become economically sustainable.

This seminar, organized by the strategic research area Creative Media Industriesand the research group The Mediatization of Culture at the Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication, University of Copenhagen, presents state-of-the-art research into the evolving business models for the news industry as well as contributions from those practitioners that work with them on a daily basis.

The seminar will be in Danish and Norwegian.

You can also find the event on Facebook here.

Two exciting seminars this November

Earlier this summer, I made arrangements for two exciting research seminars in Copenhagen next November. I will probably post more about the seminars later but I think a little early promotion won’t hurt. The one seminar takes place on November 20, 2012, from 1pm to 3.30pm, is called “New business models for the news industry“, and brings researchers and practitioners together to discuss one of the most urgent challenges to the news industry as we know it:

For several years, the traditional business models of news organizations have been under pressure; news organizations’ earnings from advertising or subscription have decreased as a lot of the public’s news consumption has moved from print to online sources, and the financial crisis has weakened revenue possibilities further. As such, news organizations have had to rethink their business models, and their conclusions and strategies for monetizing the online audience vary. Even so, it remains an open question what the business models for the future of the news industry look like and how they become economically sustainable.

This seminar, organized by the strategic research area Creative Media Industries and the research group The Mediatization of Culture at the Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication, University of Copenhagen, presents state-of-the-art research into the evolving business models for the news industry as well as contributions from those practitioners that work with them on a daily basis.

The seminar will be in Danish and Norwegian. Admission is free of charge and registration is not necessary.

For this seminar, I’ve been so fortunate to be able to get together my dream team of presenters: from Norway, my good friend and fellow PhD fellow for the past couple of years Jens Barland comes to present findings from his PhD dissertation about Norwegian news organizations’ strategies for making money; from Denmark, the editorial chief of development and innovation from Berlingske Media Pernille Tranberg and the COO of JP/Politikens Hus Stig Kirk Ørskov will talk about their organizations’ strategies and considerations. With these people aboard, the seminar will certainly be highly insightful and inspirational, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Before we get to this seminar, however, I have another one arranged in the form of a guest presentation by my good colleague Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford, and Roskilde University). This is a more closed event for colleagues primarily, where Rasmus will share key findings from his impressive and very favourably reviewed book Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns (Princeton University Press, 2012) about the use of persons as media in political campaigns. This seminar takes place on November 1, 2012 – just five days before the American presidential election. Rasmus is an exceptionally bright young researcher, and I’m glad wo have him on board for this arrangement.

Urban closes, Metro International last man standing

Berlingske Media – publisher of the oldest Danish newspaper and currently owned by London-based investment company Mecom Group – just announced that they will close their free daily newspaper Urban tomorrow, leaving metroXpress and 24timer [24hours] (both owned by Metro International) as the only national free daily newspapers in Denmark. In a press release, CEO of Berlingske Media Lisbeth Knudsen says that

“We [Berlingske] expect a year where economical growth won’t increase, where consumption won’t increase, and where the pressure on the transition from print to digital and mobile will continue. We have to make sure that the group continues to be strong in the competetive situation we face. […] We are sad to choose to say goodbye to thousands of faithful readers of our free daily newspaper Urban but there are no indications that advertising conditions will turn advantageous for the national market for free daily newspapers in 2012; with three [free daily] newspapers there are too many players for that part of the advertising.” (my translation)

When I taught a course on free daily newspapers and news media in Denmark in the Fall of 2009, one of the things I discussed with the students was of course the future of the free daily newspapers. Would they all survive (the financial crisis was also peaking at that time)? If not, which would close? Or perhaps new ones would open? We agreed that if one of the free daily newspapers were to close, it would probably be Urban. Why?

First, the target audiences of metroXpress and 24timer were much more clearcut; metroXpress spoke to an audience interested in international matters and politics while 24timer prioritized lifestyle and service journalism. Urban’s target audience was, however, less clearly defined and it could be hard to define exactly who it was written for. We expected that when having three different free newspapers to choose from, people would probably go for the one that matched their interests best – and judging from Piet Bakker’s recent calculation of readership, I’d say they apparently did.

Second, Berlingske Media was under immense pressure (to say the least) from their owners in Mecom to make a profit; in that situation, giving away news for free on one more platform than the existing economic problem-child of the web seemed an unlikely long-term strategy. Substituting shop steward Thomas Conradsen more or less touches upon the same perspective in a comment to the professional journal of Danish journalists:

“I don’t know if you can say we’re surprised. You know that when you don’t generate profit, it’ll have consequences some day. But we have run the newspaper as [economically] tight as we could so we hoped we would make it.” (my translation)

I’m actually a little surprised to see such an honest admission that Urban wasn’t profitable. But for the two reasons given above, I wouldn’t say that I’m very surprised the free daily newspaper closed.

In 2001, Metro International introduced the first free daily newspaper to the Danish citizens. Now, 10 years later, the transnational publishing company remains the last man standing on the Danish market for free daily newspapers. And with two outlets now instead of just one in the beginning, the organization might actually come out stronger from the battle against now closed free alternatives Nyhedsavisen, dato, and Urban.