What’s 299 DKK between friends?

Earlier this month, the Danish broadsheet newspaper Politiken increased the fee on its digital subscription significantly – from 79 DKK to 299 (from approximately 10.50 Euros to approximately 40). It’s a 278 percent increase, and even though there may be some cautious support for it in parts of the academic literature, I’m somewhat skeptical as to whether it will be a success. “It’s the economy, stupid”, and one can get too much good journalism elsewhere for the same price (see the chart below) for me to be fully convinced that the pricing is the right one.

I’ve written a piece for the Danish online medium Kommunikationsforum where I analyze and assess the adjusted pricing of Politiken’s. It’s in Danish, but it may be of interest for some. Enjoy.

New publication: who will pay for online news?

The Journal of Media Business Studies has now published my new research article “The free-to-fee transition: audiences’ attitudes toward paying for online news“. The article is co-authored with Morten Boeck, Jakob Vikær Hansen, and Lars Juul Hadberg Hauschildt and builds, empirically, upon research they did for their master thesis in 2013 (I was the supervisor of this thesis*).

In the article, we present a study of audiences’ attitudes toward and willingness to pay the subscription, which Danish omnibus newspaper Politiken launched on its news website politiken.dk in May, 2013.

Here’s the abstract:

After more than a decade of giving online news away for free, legacy newspaper organisations in many Western countries have recently begun charging audiences for access to online journalistic content. Focusing empirically on a Danish case, this article uses one survey (n = 1054) and two focus groups to examine audiences’ attitudes towards paying for online news. The analysis suggests that audiences’ general principles regarding paying for online news influence their willingness to pay more than the size of the subscription fee. Furthermore, the analysis shows that younger audiences’ willingness to pay increases if they can combine content from different news providers and thereby individualise their news products. The latter in particular can have practical implications as it presents a way forward for economically challenged legacy newspaper organisations, but it might also compromise the democratic ideals of journalism.

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

* Students often do a lot of good work in their master theses, and it is in the final instance paid for by the tax payers (through the Danish system of free access to higher education) who can also use it for something, but it rarely reaches a larger audience than the people who have an obligation to read it – the author, the examiners, and the mothers or partners who cannot say no to proof-reading the final copy. With this article, I am happy to have helped some of the high-quality student-conducted research get out to the public.

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.

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 my (now defunct) other website 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 my (now defunct) other website 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 my (now defunct) other website 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 . 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.

Update March 19, 2018: I’ve closed Paywall Watch. Some of the same issues will be covered here on this website in the future. See, for example, my timeline of online subscriptions.