The Power of Print Goes to Finland

How was your trip to Finland?

Jim Elliott: It was a great trip. It was really wonderful to reconnect with a couple of executives from Otavamedia I had met a few years ago at Samir Husni’s ACT conference in Oxford, Mississippi. The purpose of the trip was to speak to the Otavamedia clients who, incidentally, were the majority of the advertisers in the nation of Finland. 

The subject of my speech was: The state of magazines in the United States, and how they integrate with digital. In order to prepare, I had to learn about Finnish publishing. I found their industry to be really interesting. It was the first time in my career that I deep dove into the character of a foreign country’s publishing market.

What did you find? 

JE: Finland is by far a smaller country with a population of 5.5 M. It has a 100% literacy rate and hardly anyone is without a college education. I was surprised to find that they have the highest per-capita readership of magazines in the world.

You said in your press release that America had a lot to learn from the Finns. What did you mean?

JE: The Finnish publishing community does some things that we could learn a lot about. The first is, they weren’t giving away subscriptions. They control circulation in a much more business-like fashion. Because they weren’t giving away copies, they were charging their readers. The second article of note was, that they seemed to have a larger awareness that people move on it life. Otavamedia understands that, as you age, you’re prone to read products relevant to you. Often I find that U.S. magazines are edited for a particular audience, with the hope that they will be subscribers for the rest of their lives. Otavamedia’s approach is more realistic. They offer products for every age demographic, connecting readers to their time.

Could the United States publishing industry benefit from such a model? 

JE: It would be interesting for the American consumer, if the audience was attached to a particular publishing house.

What is their conception of the Print and Digital relationship?  

JE:  In Helsinki, there is a department store called Stockmann, which is the largest department store in Finland. Inside was the largest collection of magazines I have ever seen. With entire floors devoted to magazines, every subject imaginable seemed to be represented.  It was incredible.

In Finland the conversation isn’t about the demise of magazines, it’s about ad revenue and how that ad revenue changes. One of the things I found most fascinating was a study by Robert G. Picard (Turku School of Economics) on 9 industrial nations after the 1990-91 recession. The study concluded that magazines entered into a decline, slightly after a recession started. Broadcast, however, entered a recession immediately. In every industrial nation, as the recession turned around, the broadcast or quick, low-commitment media (meaning the instantaneous flexibility afforded to a broadcast  schedule) grew and shrank rapidly with the economy. Magazines, though, gradually recover after a recession.

In the presentation, you discussed uncontrolled inventory for the web. What did you mean? 

JE: I was speaking of the ability to manufacture inventory into infinity. The only medium that has ever had that ability is the internet. In broadcast you only have a certain amount of time per hour. In magazines you have a finite amount of pages. On the internet you can continue to create edit with adjacencies forever.

Any further comparisons between the Finnish and American media model? 

JE: I think they have much we can learn from in the way they approach demographics, and the way they approach circulation. Otavamedia has a very clear relationship with its readers. Each brand has enormous assets in web, transactional assets, newsletter assets, etc. But they don’t lose sight of what created these assets, which is, in fact, the magazine brand that tied it all together.