Submojour Report: 2.8. Finland: Legacy dominates

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Esa Sirkkunen 

  • The Finnish media market has strong newspaper and print media production for mass markets, strong public broadcasting, and a high level of public support in the media field in general.
  • Most of the Finnish online journalism is not economically sustainable as such.
  • Mainstream media remains dominant in news production. Finnish pure players have been daunted by taking on legacy media organisations.
  • There is a lack of innovative news journalism outlets As formerly in France, the Finnish system demands less VAT from traditional media than the pure players operating solely on the web.
  • The Finnish pure players have so far based their operations mostly on display advertisement although they all seem to strive for finding new revenue sources.
  • Business to business operations may offer opportunities to start supplying content or services to the mainstream media. The next generation of Finnish pure-players have to be more innovative, because of increased competition in this field.
  • The cases included: Asymco, Urheiluviikko, Arcticstartup, Hellapoliisi, Jatkoaika, Ampparit, Tilannehuone, Rantapallo, Uusi Suomi, Afterdawn, Stara Media.

Print media – books, newspapers and magazines – have had a crucial role in the birth of Finland as a nation state. And these traditions are still present today. Compared to many other Western societies, print media is still relatively strong in a country of 5,5 million inhabitants, most of them speaking Finnish. There are still 31 seven-day dailies (often regional), more than in any other Nordic country. Newspapers are still strong in subscriptions and early-morning delivery is still the dominant way to distribute newspapers.

However, a structural change of the media market and consumption of news is also taking place in Finland. According to Statistics Finland’s survey, as many as 89% of those aged 16 to 74 use the Internet and three out of four use it daily (OSF, 2011). Finland is close to the top in Europe in prevalence of Internet use. The media usage along with advertising is slowly moving away from printed media.

However, high Internet penetration has not yet crumbled the business models of print media, as has happened in many other markets. Newspaper circulation and their share of advertising revenues have been diminishing, but rather more slowly. Also television has maintained its popularity as a medium. Moneywise, in the year 2010, newspapers, magazines and television still represent three quarters of all the revenue in the media field (see fig. 2.8.1).

Figure 2.8.1: Media revenues 2005-2010, the share of different mediums of the total revenue of the media field in percents. Music (grey), Radio (red), Games (light brown), Display and classified web advertising (brown), books (light grey), magazines (blue), television (orange), newspapers (green). Source: Ministry of Transport and Communications (2011)

In Finland most of the media revenue still comes from printed newspapers’ subscription fees and advertising, and from television advertising (Ministry of Transport and Communications 33/2011). At the same time the media habits of the audience are changing and the impact of the Internet is growing. This adds pressure for the mainstream media to seek new sources of revenue. Web advertising has been growing from 2005 with an accelerated pace (see fig. 2.8.2).

Figure 2.8.2: The share of media advertisements by medium. Newspapers (red) TV, (green), Web (blue), magazines (yellow), radio (black). Source: Ministry of Transport and Communications (2011)

It is evident that the Finnish mainstream media is going to face the same problems as the media industry in many of the Western countries. Newspapers are in the most vulnerable position because the advertising is going to move to the web more and more acutely.

In general the legacy media is trying to adjust to the changing media landscape. On the Internet most journalistic content has so far been given away for free. However, in the spring 2012 some experiments with paywalls or freemium models were launched, notably with the launch of a trade newspaper Kauppalehti with a freemium model.

Media policy and labour markets

The Finnish media market has its own characteristics. There are traces of what Hallin and Mancini call the democratic corporative model. In comparison between Finland, France, Germany, Italy, UK and the US, public support for the press was found to be largest in Finland (Nielsen & Linnebank 2011). One of the forms of public support has been that Finland has exempted the newspaper industry until 2011 from the standard 23 percent VAT rate on subscription sales, advertising, newsprint, composition and machinery. Even today the demands on legacy compared to pure players are uneven. Now the newspaper industry pays 9% VAT when the pure players are paying the full 23,5% on their operations. There was a similar situation in France until recently.

This has prompted discussions as to the role and news policy of YLE, the national broadcasting company. YLE offers a wide range of journalistic content on different platforms for free. Recently, the major commercial media companies have been criticising YLE, saying that it skews markets with its free quality content. A similar discussion has been going on in Britain, and in some other countries with strong national broadcasting companies.

The fierce competition from global companies like Google, Facebook or Groupon has also forced the Finnish media companies to seek ways to do things together. The national media scene has been trying to co-operate in development and research work done for example in the national Next Media research programme (http://www.nextmedia.fi/). There are also attempts to jump start the media startup scene with a news innovation competition funded by the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation: (http://blogi.uutisraivaaja.fi/2012/01/19/uutisraivaaja-again-in-2012/)

Finland is said to have the highest number of journalists per capita in the world (Vehkoo 2011). In 2011 over 60% of Finnish journalists worked in the print media and they are increasingly concerned about their future. The labour market of journalists has started to fluctuate after a decade-long era of stability. There were a series of layoffs in big media houses in autumn 2011, continuing in the spring 2012. However, taking into account the ongoing changes in the media market at large, it is apparent that the most significant changes for labour markets in journalism are yet to come.

The web is rising

The Internet – as a disruptive technology – has started to replace the traditional channels of distribution in Finland and brought global actors into the formerly national Finnish media field. Like elsewhere, this presents a challenge. Business models based on scarcity do not translate to a networked and social world online, and are having to be replaced. Users have a vast array of information and content at their fingertips. Abundance means lower prices for content and advertising and these low prices create a great challenge for those developing new services based on the Internet.

Another indicator of the ongoing media change is consumer behaviour. Newspapers reached more than 80 percent of adults in 2008, and now the same can be said for newspaper websites which reached almost an equal number of young people under the age of 45 (Ministry of Transport and Communications 2011). Among Finnish websites, the most popular ones are growing faster than others. Such news sites are owned by mainstream media houses such as Iltalehti, Ilta-Sanomat and Helsingin Sanomat. They take two thirds of the whole Finnish web audience.

Table 2.8.1: Top five Finnish news sites vs. top six pure players placed on the TSN Metrix weekly list based on the amount of visitors per week.

TSN Metrix Visitors on week 12 (2012)
1. Iltalehti (News tabloid) 2 792 252
2. Ilta-Sanomat (News tabloid) 2 347 032
3. MTV3 (TV channel) 1 794 221
4. Helsingin Sanomat (Newspaper) 1 479 329
5. YLE (Public broadcaster) 1 253 677
23. Stara.fi (Entertainment news)  353 285
25. Uusi Suomi (National news &blogs)  298 082
30. Kotikokki.net (Food and recipes)  223 920
31. Ampparit.com (News aggregator)  211 773
45. Afterdawn.com (Tech news & info)  147 595
53. Rantapallo (Travels, holidays)  119 220

 

http://tnsmetrix.tns-gallup.fi/public/

A history of independent sites

The first wave of independent sites in Finland started in 2000. During the years from 2000-2005 small experimental sites, that started as a hobby, slowly turned out to be real businesses. This is how tech news and test site Afterdawn.com and entertainment news site Stara.fi got started. During those years, the first independent hyperlocal site Nopola News was also launched which drew together several hundred content creators in the small town of Kyyjärvi in central Finland. News aggregator Ampparit also started around this time.

The second wave of startups came after 2005 in the form of blogs, bloggers and various niche content sites. Knitting blogs have been something of a phenomenon in Finland, following on from the success of fashion blogs by young women in the last few years (Noppari & Hautakangas 2012). One of the fastest growing companies in the fashion blogging world has been Indymedia which aggregates popular fashion blogs into one site. Other examples of niche content are in the travelling sector in which a startup Rantapallo is competing with legacy media. And as in the USA, the health and lifestyle niche sites are very popular. Citizen journalism in sports has turned out to be successful as in the case of Jatkoaika.com, which collects match reports from hundreds of volunteers during the ice hockey season.

The first – and so far the only – site that has been covering general news is Uusisuomi.fi founded in 2008. It is possible to note that, compared to some other European countries or especially to the US, Finnish pure players have been daunted by taking on legacy media organisations with several afraid of competing with the big news organisations. So far the startups have been small and supplementary to the mainstream media sites rather than competing with them.

Only very recently have there been attempts to get startups going in the field of media and gaming. Of note, Aalto university in the Helsinki area is hosting a startup incubator. There is a positive buzz around entrepreneurship among students and young media professionals elsewhere, which could potentially be harnessed for the future. Moreover, competitions such as Uutisraivaaja funded by Helsingin Sanomat Foundation has brought new ideas into the field in terms of starting and launching new media entities.

Small but sustainable

The independent journalistic services on offer in Finland are operating outside the most visited top ten sites overall. However many of them are within the top 50. They are, so far, quite small and their yearly turnover is between 150 000 – 250 000 euros with one to two employees, as is the case in most of the countries in this study. Most of these are targeted at niche audiences but benefit from being relatively well established with a long history behind them. Most advocate avoiding large fixed costs, as the traditional news media have done, with steady jobs and large newsrooms. Most of the cases are strongly dependent on advertising revenue, but almost all are at least trying to find new funding sources. They report that this is because the competition is hard.

When the case studies are analysed based on their yearly revenue and advertising models, two groups seem to emerge. The two cases who have generated more than 400 000 euros – Afterdawn.com and Uusisuomi.fi – are based mostly on advertising revenues. The ones below 400 000 are mostly reliant on a combination of revenue models, not just ads.

Afterdawn.com is an exception among the Finnish pure player case studies in that its main market has been the English speaking world, and the Finnish site was supported by the English site for a long time. Now they have expanded their sites to the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Uusisuomi.fi offers mainstream news and comments and has a newsroom of seven journalists, all paid full time. Uusi Suomi competes with legacy media in their own field and has a lively blogging section. However the site has suffered heavy losses. The founder of the site, journalist Niklas Herlin has so far had to support nearly 2 million euros in losses (the site is on its way to profitability according the editor in chief, Markku Huusko).

The remainder of the case studies in the database operate at less than 400,000 euros with diversified revenue models. Stara.fi which features entertainment news is an exception in the lower group. Its business model is mostly based on ads. In order to succeed with advertising, Stara cited more than 330 000 users a week in 2012. Stara has a staff of two with some 30 freelancers. It is rather telling that for example Aamulehti, one of the largest newspapers in Finland with a newsroom of 150 journalists had only 273 000 unique visitors.

The lower group contains sites that are targeted to niche audiences and have specialized in some theme; for example blogging about Apple as a company (Asymco) publishing recipes and books about food (Hellapoliisi), compiling reports of Finnish ice-hockey (Jatkoaika) and providing news from startup-scene form Nordic-Baltic region and arranging meetings (Arctic Startup). More mainstream journalism and big audience sites deal with travelling (Rantapallo.fi), and sports news (Urheiluviikko). There are also two aggregators, Ampparit and Tilannehuone.

Figure 2.8.3: The Finnish startups placed according to their yearly revenue and amount of revenue sources.

Legacy and innovation

Some of the features of the Hallin-Mancini media system, set out at the beginning of this chapter, are visible in the Finnish media market – strong newspaper and print media production for mass markets, strong public broadcasting, high level of public support in the media field in general to name a few. As a result, the Finnish online media journalism sites are struggling and not always economically sustainable as such.

The dominance of the mainstream media in news production is visible in many ways. Clearly the birth of niche sites targeted for small audiences is one sign of this phenomena. Also the lack of innovative news journalism outlets is evident. Uusi Suomi is the only outlet that is operating in this field – with great difficulties in the beginning as we have seen. One of the peculiarities of the Finnish system is that the traditional media is paying less VAT than the pure players operating solely on the web.

The Finnish pure players have so far based their operations mostly on display advertisement although they all seem to strive for finding new revenue sources. Some of the interviewees stressed that it was important to find an advertisement agency that knows how to sell ads on the web as selling ads was so important to the successful pure players like Afterdawn.com, Uusisuomi.fi, Stara.fi and Rantapallo.fi. It is possible there will be eventually more co-operation among the pure players in Finland also on other fields, and be more innovative as the field becomes more competitive.

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References:

Nielsen, R. & Linnebank, G. (2011) Public Support for the Media: A Six-Country Overview of Direct and Indirects Subsidies. University of Oxford. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Report. August 2011.

Noppari, E. & Hautakangas, M. (2012) Kovaa työtä olla minä. Muotibloggaajat mediamarkkinoilla. (Hard work to be me. Fashion bloggers on media markets.) Tampere: Tampere University Press.

Ministry of Transport and Communications (2011) Changing media market – from a scarcity to an abundance. Publications of the Ministry of Transport and Communications 33/2011 http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-243-270-4

OSF (2011) Official Statistics of Finland: Use of information and communications technology [e-publication]. Helsinki: Statistics Finland [referred: 22.5.2012]. Access method: http://www.stat.fi/til/sutivi/index_en.html.

Vehkoo, J. (2011) Painokoneet seis! Kertomuksia uuden journalismin ajasta. (Stop the Press! Tales from the Era of New Journalism) Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Teos.

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