Metro International, the freesheet publisher, said it doesn’t expect to break even in 2008: so far this year has lost a total €3.97 million (£3.08 million) from its seven websites in Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary, Chile, France and Spain.
Swedes are getting so hooked on social media that for many web-crazy young things reality-TV has all but moved online.
Last night Twingly, the Swedish web company that supplies a blog trackback functionality to newspapers world-wide and last week launched its international spam free blog search engine Twingly.com, aired the first programme of its new reality-series on YouTube: The Summer of Code.
“We have recruited four ambitious interns and given them six weeks to develop a visual search engine for blogs; Twingly Blogoscope,” said Martin Källström, CEO of Twingly.
“Everyone can follow what happens in the project via daily episodes on YouTube.”
The episodes will be uploaded Monday to Friday at 6 PM GMT (10 AM in San Francisco, 19:00 in Stockholm) and the first programme aired last night.
“Openness in this project is a way to show the daily life in the office,” said Källström.
“Generally people are not familiar with the stimulating working atmosphere in a start-up. Hopefully Twingly Summer of Code will inspire more people to join Twingly or other start-ups.”
Media increasingly about conversation
Last week, Twingly launched its search engine Twingly.com to track 30 million blogs all over the world.
Despite this global scope, Källström said Twingly will concentrate on being number one in Europe, working with several different European languages.
“Google has not improved its blog search for more than two years,” he told Journalism.co.uk.
The company has teamed up with newspapers in Spain, Portugal, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and South Africa, to show blog links to the news sites’ articles.
Källström added that his hope was for Twingly to be able to take on both Google and Technorati by providing more functionality and driving traffic to bloggers via its media partnerships.
“Media is more and more about the conversation between media and its readers. We see a very strong synergy between mainstream media and bloggers and try to provide a bridge that can improve this synergy,” he said.
Blogs have replaced docusoaps
Twingly’s target group for The Summer of Code will no doubt draw an audience of uber-geeks but a young Swedish reporter recently admitted she was addicted to a very different sort of ‘web docusoap’.
Madeleine Östlund, a reporter with the Swedish equivalent of Press Gazette, Dagens Media, claimed the country’s fashion blogs had replaced docusoaps (link in Swedish).
She confessed she found it increasingly difficult to live without her daily fix of intimate everyday details and gossip from the country’s high-profile fashion bloggers, a phenomenon Journalism.co.uk has described here.
“It is not their blogging about clothes that draws me in, rather it is the surprise and fascination with which I read about these young girls’ private lives. Surprise and fascination about how much they often reveal,” she wrote, citing posts about broken hearts, hospital stays, what they had for breakfast and descriptions of a caesarian birth.
Roll on the Web 2.0 docusoap about dashing media journalists, I say.
Norway’s largest city is in cyberspace, and its 713 000 ‘citizens’ are generating good revenues for the newspaper that owns it.
A city of teenagers
VG is currently earning a gross margin of more than 50 per cent from this social network, called ‘Nettby‘ (Norwegian for NetCity), Jo Christian Oterhals, head of development, VG Multimedia & chairman of Nettby Community AS, Norway, told the audience at World Association of Newspapers (WAN) conference in Gothenburg last week.
The 713,000-strong city is in fact the biggest city in Norway, bigger than the capital, Oslo.
“Teenage girls are very active here, and we all know that if you get the girls, you also get teenage boys,” said Oterhals, who explained that Nettby’s 713 citizens make up for 61 per cent of all teenagers in Norway.
This demographic is obviously an attractive one for advertisers, but premium membership is also an important source of revenue. “Premium membership is really important for us now, we have more than 50,000 paying customers at any given time,” Oterhals added.
City guards key to success
Nettby is Norway’s second biggest social network after Facebook, but VG.no is not worried about the competition from the trendy website, because the users and purpose of the two social networks are so different:
“Nettby is a place you go to meet new people; on Facebook you keep up with existing friends,” Espen Egil Hansen, managing editor of VG.no, told me on a previous occasion.
Nettby is very much like a party where teenagers hang out, flirt and meet new friends.
“But you can’t just open the door, the best parties are well administered,” said Oterhals.
“That is why Nettby has city guards, volunteers who help moderate and control Nettby,” he explained, adding that these city guards were hand-picked by Nettby’s own people.
“To throw a good party you need good planning, a place, a host, basic rules, a bouncer, an invitation and a few introduction. We try to provide all this,” said Oterhals.
No recipe to make teenagers read news
“Currently there are almost no links between VG and Nettby other than the logo, as it was very important for us when we started Nettby that the kids who came in there did not get the impression that this was their fathers’ website,” said Oterhals.
In other words, Nettby has not been a recipe to get young readers reading newspapers – a topic much discussed during WAN.
Instead, Oterhals told journalism.co.uk, part of the rational for running this social network was to be part of what is happening on the web and to figure out how young readers use the web.
“What is your competitor online is not as easy to figure out online as in print – it could be Google, it could be Facebook – so we stay awake at night thinking about what the next big thing will be, who our new competitors are,” he said
VG.no has also launched the site in Sweden, where it failed due to many Norwegian teenagers hanging out there, and more recently in Spain, where it is an add-on to the online operation of 20 Minutos, Schibsted’s Spanish freesheet.
“Analysts said Nettby’s success will last for six years max, so the challenge for us is to look at how can we repackage and launch it as new products. I think that will be our strategy for the future,” said Oterhals.
Integrating newsrooms isn’t just a matter of putting all you desks in a spoke and fulcrum formation and projecting the web traffic figures on the wall.
The small matter of how you remunerate journalists expected to work both for print and web is an issue for newspapers across the globe.
It’s an issue that the Guardian and Telegraph, to name just two in the UK, have been wrestling with as they bring their divergent print and online editions closer together.
International editors sitting on a panel looking at whether integrated newsrooms are really working at the World Editors Forum, today in Goteborg, Sweden, admitted to a similar set of problems.
Jim Roberts, editor of digital news at the New York Times, told delegates that the Times’ own integration plans were hampered by the different contracts and lower pay web journalists were receiving compared to their print colleagues.
Roberts is overseeing the introduction of a ‘horizontal’ news production system where each separate news department has web producers embedded with them to encourage multimedia content production, oversee publication.
The Times is trying to spread multimedia, video, podcasts and interactive features across all its news verticals – even to the point where the Times is reverse publishing blog content as columns into the printed edition of the newspaper.
This drive for web content has also brought a renewed thirst to keep the newspaper print edition fresh, as Roberts said ‘to redirect this energy back into print’.
But as staff are now expected to work for both web and print, the different contracts they work under has led to union wrangles. WSJ.com managing editor Almar Latour and Javier Moreno, editor-in-chief of El Pais, Spain, agreed that they faced similar contractual problems on their integration projects.
Norwegian media giant Schibsted this morning announced that it’s paying £30m to take a 35 per cent stake in the Swedish edition of Metro International’s free newspaper.
In what is a key freesheet market the former rivals have forged a partnership to collaborate on advertising sales with the new company offering advertisers the chance to reach 4.2 million readers across the Metro and Schibsted paid-for dailies Aftonbladet and Dagbladet.
In February, Metro International CEO, Per Mikael Jensen, discussed his company’s strategic goals with Journalism.co.uk saying that consolidation and online innovation would be key for the development of his newspapers, in what he called the ‘freesheet 2.0 phase.’
“We are entering a freesheet 2.0 phase where we are consolidating our core business and looking at more ways to attract readers,” said Jensen, who succeeded Pelle Törnberg as head of Metro in 2007.
In Sweden, this consolidation will mean Schibsted will stop publication of its free paper Punkt SE with immediate effect so that the new joint venture can focus print advertising around a single free title.
The deal has similarities with the one Metro struck at the end of 2007, when it sold 60 per cent of its Czech operation to its competitor Mafra.
The freesheet giant is currently undergoing a strategic review, and when Journalism.co.uk spoke to him, Jensen said we could expect more deals of this nature.
Today, Jensen refused to rule out further consolidations when questioned by Danish media and said he expected dramatic changes in the Danish newspaper market in the coming months (but refused to go into details).
“We do not just sit there and wait for the strategic review to be completed, but implement strategy from day to day. Strategy is something we evaluate each month. Those who believe the strategic review we now are in the middle of will become some sort of bible, will be disappointed,” said Jensen in the interview with Journalism.co.uk.
In addition, Metro is looking to attract more readers online. It’s launching new versions of its websites in all its markets – it recently launched online for the first time in France – and will consolidate some of its editorial activities by creating an internal news agency in London which will serve all its editions.
Jensen is behind Metro’s new developments and alliances but he remains as pessimistic as ever about the future of paid-for printed newspapers.
“I would be very surprised if more than 25 per cent of today’s paid-for newspapers exist in ten years. Of the newspapers that will survive, many of them will be published online only, or make its paper edition free,” Jensen said.
The two newspaper giants may have forged a partnership in Sweden but they remain embroiled in a head-to-head competition over their market leading freesheets in France and Spain.
However, Metro International still has a lot of work to do to convince investors that its business model – the company is still loss-making even though it narrowed its first quarter net loss to £5.1 m – has a profitable future.
I don’t mean to sound over emotional – it’ll just be the hormones acting on my smaller female brain – but I’ve got a problem with a report yesterday from the Associated Press about Charme Chacon, the Spanish defense minister.
The ministry has ordered its staff to stop browsing entertainment and sport websites during working hours. Says the report:
Spain’s Defense Ministry, run by a woman for the first time, has ordered its staff to stop browsing sports and entertainment Web sites while on duty, an official said Thursday.
A ministry official said the order was distributed this week, but did not come directly from the new minister, Carme Chacon, who took over last week as Spain’s first female defense minister. She is 37 years old and seven months pregnant.
What relevance do these points (in bold) have to the story? The order didn’t even come directly from Chacon, as the report states, so why let the copy imply that her gender and her pregnancy are somehow related to the situation?
Just in case there’s any confusion over this blog post – I am 24 years old and not pregnant.