Neil Thurman and Merja Myllylahti of City University in London have published a study "Taking the paper out of news" in the academic journal Journalism Studies, examining the case of Taloussanomat, a Finnish financial publication that responded to the economic failure of its print product by shifting to a Web-only, advertising-supported strategy.
The results are quite mixed. The brand has been preserved but altered to become more focused on consumer finance. Losses continue but have been substantially reduced. Revenue is down (print revenue does not automatically migrate to the online product) but costs are reduced even more.
As I read the study, a couple of points stand out as stark warnings to the rest of us:
- Stalled traffic. Taloussanomat, Europe's "first online-only newspaper," has struggled and hasn't kept pace with competitors that also offer much of their content in print form. For me, this raises questions about how to promote a service that doesn't insinuate itself into potential users' lives the way print can (whether through delivery or ubiquitous presence on newsstands). Websites wait for visitors to come to them. A website with an old-media partner has a built-in promotion and marketing advantage.
- Tail-chasing journalism. The reporters are pouring around 100 stories a day into several websites. While Taloussanomat might claim they're producing original work, Thurman and Myllylahti found "80 percent of the site’s stories were based on news agency material or stories published in other newspapers or news sites." This reflects a tail-chasing behavior that I believe is deeply and dangerously embedded in journalism culture. We all need to restructure our priorities so that every act of journalism creates unique value. As Jeff Jarvis has said, "Do what you do best, and link to the rest."
- Time spent by consumers with the journalism has declined by perhaps 75 percent. My interpretation: A print experience is focused and immersive. On the Web, everything else is just a click away, and consumers flit about from site to site. This isn't something we can change. Smart companies (Google) deal with this by creating reasons to return, linking out aggressively rather than trying to maintain walls to keep users inside. As I've said before, loyalty accrues to the service that helps us discover things.
The study can be purchased for $30 from Informaworld.