Friday, 30 November 2012

Paywalls at 60 degrees North

Newspapers are rethinking their strategies. In my younger years I was told by my father, a 2nd generation Newspaper Publisher, that trustworthy journalism is one of the pillars of society. People turned to newspapers to learn the truth and to understand what was going on in politics and the society -  be it on a local or national level. Obviously first the Internet and then Social Media changed the way how we get our news and understand the world we're living in. It's been nearly two decades since the first Finnish newspaper (Turun Sanomat) went online. At that time the Internet was regarded as an advertisement for the printed newspaper and PR for the young students who couldn't afford a print subscription. 

Today everything has changed and Newspaper Publishers are actively looking to reinvent their business model in the digital / mobile ecosystem, including the Web. This year we have seen two of our national institutions change their way of thinking, namely the financial newspaper Kauppalehti and now in November -our biggest daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat.

Let's start with Helsingin Sanomat. The prominent newspaper is now 123 years of age, established on November 16, 1889. The printed newspaper still has a high number of subscribers approx. 366,000, however, this number has fallen rapidly from the 400,000 mark. The broadsheet sized newspaper is to be published in tabloid format as of January 8, 2013 as part of the process to renew the image of the printed newspaper. The mobile and web services had been accessible for free until November 20, when the paywall was put into effect. Now only five articles per week can be read for free, as well as those shared by people in social media.This is a turnaround for the Finnish newspapers, accepting the fact that quality journalism is not for free. A lot of havoc followed, as was the case when the New York Times established its now successful paywall and went on to attract digital subscribers. Helsingin Sanomat has adopted the same model for its paywall and have already sold approx. 140,000 Combo subscriptions to people who like to combine digital readership with print. I am one of them - although I am currently considering an all-digital subscription in 2013. But some other family members prefer print on Sundays.

The monthly cost for full access to the website is 9.90 euros including smartphone usage and 14.90 euros including the tablet version, access to archive services and weekly and monthly supplements on the website (see table above - in Finnish only).  All of the printed supplements are featured in the revamped iPad app launched in February this year. Sanoma, like most other media firms "need to speed up the transition to digital" as reported in the Sanoma Corporation’s annual report published in March. The most recent developments prove that the strategy adopted by Sanoma News is now being implement at full force. I really like the new HS mobile app, it is fast, highly visual and easy to use. Advertisements appear in the news stream, but not so that it would be disturbing. The advertisements on the tablet app are very well done, interactive and they attract the reader to tap further. It is said that tablet adverising is at least 10 times more effective than on-line banners, if not more so. In the next phase of mobile and tablet platforms I would expect to see more location-based advertisements in the HS apps.

Kauppalehti, Finland's leading financial newspaper has adopted a "digital-first" strategy. Kauppalehti redesigned its paper and online content in May, 2012. The printed paper (also available on the tablet) focus on exclusive news and background for important events, whilst online news focus on the pulse of the moment. Freely available news items on the website are now limited to 25 per month. Digital-only subscription was made available at 3.99 euros a week including online news, and the tablet and smartphone editions. People are now converting to reading financial news on the go and this trend supports the chosen strategy, although the mobile editions could be more user-friendly like the FT and The Economist Apps are on smartphones and tablets. I'm confident that the point of improved user-interface will be taken into account in the next update of the mobile apps.

Only time will tell when the regional newspapers will establish their paywalls. I dare to predict it will happen before the snow has melted in Finland next spring, that is by April at the latest.

A third example of a novel media concept is HBL+, published by KSF Media.
It's a weekly magazine in HTML 5-format (web app) for tablets only, with unique content and a highly-visual layout. In this case unique content means premium-journalism produced in-house or content bought exclusively for HBL+. Content is sourced from the four local newspapers of KSF Media, all published along the coastline in Southern Finland including the daily newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet, founded in Helsinki in 1864. Content is also sourced from one magazine, Forum för Ekonomi och Teknik, covering financial and technological topics. KSF Media see the new product as an opportunity to reach a larger audience for high quality journalism - it is about culture and phenomena in Finland, and is published in the Swedish language. The pre-release took place at the Helsinki Book Fair on October 26 and HBL+ is now published every Friday. HBL+ is priced at 9.90 euros per month or 99 euros for a full-year. It will really be interesting how this truly fresh new media concept will attract readers and advertisers. 

Wishing all my blog readers a good weekend. Outside it's snowing as we are about to enter the month of December. Let it Snow!

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