What Happens When Newspapers Go Digital? A Case Study Of Europe’s First Online-Only Paper

Just this year so far we’ve seen American papers shift from print to digital: the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News, of course, both went online-only; the Christian Science Monitor is virtually all online, and many other papers are printing at a much reduced frequency. But all this is so recent it’s hard to know what to make of it.

Enter Taloussanomat, a Finnish financial daily that stopped printing on December 28, 2007. Neil Thurman and Merja Myllylahti at London’s City University, Graduate School of Journalism, studied what happened after that day.

Taloussanomat’s site is the second-most highly trafficked financial news website in Finland, second only to its competitor Kauppalehti, which still has a printed version. The organization employs 41, 16 of which are in the newsroom. Since the elimination of the print edition, Taloussanomat saw a small rise in pageviews and weekly visitors—but compared to the gains other news organizations (32 percent increase for the Guardian, for example) showed, Taloussanomat’s numbers (a 10 percent increase) are poor.

The company was able to cut its expenses by 52 percent after eliminating the print edition, and cut another ten percent through layoffs—before the move to online, the company employed 69. So, they’ve saved 62% of what they were spending, but, the study authors say, Taloussanomat’s revenue fell 75 percent now that the print edition is no more, and the online division is still not turning a profit.

On the advertising issue, the authors write:

To an extent Taloussanomat is better placed than some of its competitors in the Finnish online news market to cope with the economics of surplus. Its content appeals to a relatively affluent demographic. According to Sanoma Oy (2008b) 77 percent of Taloussanomat’s readers are male, 45 percent between the ages of 25–44, five percent are ‘leading decision makers’, and 29 percent have ‘decision-making powers’. As a result it is able to charge around three times more for a front-page super banner ad than the websites of its stable mates: the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat, and Finland’s best-selling daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (Sanoma Oy 2008a).

Yet Taloussanomat’s CEO said that it would take “years” of double-digit growth for the title to become profitable with just display advertising as a revenue source. So they’re turning to other income streams.

‘Permission-marketing’, on the back of opt-in content such as email
newsletters. This revenue stream currently contributes 5 percent.
‘Content syndication’, which currently contributes 20–25 percent of revenues.
‘Other sources, such as the branded seminars that Taloussanomat runs,
currently contribute 10–15 percent of revenues.

The full study is published in the journal Journalism Studies.