How to Succeed in a Tiny Media Market?

The Secret of Lauttasaari
Simo Rista 1970, Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.

There are several weekly published local newspapers in Helsinki. Most weekly papers are owned and published by media companies and represent just one publication of many in the product selection of the company. However, there is one interesting exception to this rule: Lauttasaari newspaper.

Lauttasaari newspaper is published every week with 11 800 copies on the island of Lauttasaari, a neighbourhood just outside the Helsinki city centre. It is published and owned by Lauttasaari association, which employes a halftime editor and a fulltime journalist and advertisement salesperson. The newspaper has been published since 1968 and is a member of the Finnish Newspapers Association. The paper has 12 pages of which 7 were advertisements and 4 editorial material in last June.

3 Keys to Success
Unknown photographer, Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.

Lauttasaari has managed to survive in the tough competition of print media. The chairman of the Lauttasaari association and the leader of the newspaper’s editorial council Katri Penttinen gives three main factors that have kept Lauttasaari above the surface:

  • The newspaper has a long tradition in Lauttasaari.
  • It has a very clear distribution area, because of the island location. Residents of Lauttasaari have a well defined identity.
  • Lauttasaari association is committed in publishing the newspaper, it is a constant topic of discussion in the association and it is regarded as an important form of activity for the association.

One prerequisite for any successful publication is good quality. Lauttasaari newspaper is an important communication channel to the association, but takes into account a broader perspective too. The newspaper wants to tell about Lauttasaari neighbourhood as a whole to its residents. Relevant content keeps both readers and advertisers interested.

Controlled Guidelines
Karl Mitterhusen, 1895, Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.

The current editorial team started a couple of years ago. This change also transformed the way the newspaper was produced. The editorial decisions are now well planned and the contents are selected to interest as wide a readerbase as possible. The editor-in-chief and the journalist both have a journalistic background. The editor bears the main responsibility of the newspaper, but the journalist takes care of the everyday editorial work. The editorial council creates guidelines for the publication. The journalist has also a couple of regular paid contributors to help her. Editorials are written by representatives of the association.

Before the new editorial team, there was a more or less regular group of contributors, who wrote mainly about subjects close to their hearts. Now the themes and topics are planned beforehand.

There has been competing newspapers in Lauttasaari area, but they have not survived. The old residents are traditionally the most loyal readers of the newspaper, but interest among the younger ones is increasing. Spontaneous feedback about the newspaper proves that the renewal process has been a success.

Last autumn Lauttasaari association made a survey on the residents opinions and ideas regarding the activities of the association. The survey also included questions regarding the newspaper. The survey received 212 replies in one month, which have helped to update the newspaper too.




The Best Time to Publish



Non-profit Magazines: Pick Your Date!

Publishing non-profit magazines is bliss – there’s so much freedom! With freedom come choices. One major decision is to figure out when and how often to publish the magazine. It’s very easy to pick a traditional pattern and let the budget direct the choice. Common options for a traditional print magazine are monthly, six times a year or four times a year. All potentially good choices, depending on the purpose of the magazine and the way it is financed.

Two Main Financing Options

The main financing options for non-profit magazines are subscriptions or advertisements or the combination of these two. However, it seems that most often it’s either one or the other. Advertising option requires a lot of effort to sell advertising space, so if the subscription model is functioning, most publications tend to content themselves with it.

This also stems from the nature of many non-profit magazines as a mouthpiece of the association publishing them and the magazine being originally just a bonus for the members. However, many magazines have evolved far from that humble origin and could in fact start to consider themselves as independent publications.

Subscription Model: Reader is the King

In the case of subscriptions, consider the topics of the magazine and when they would be most valuable and entertaining for your readers.

Let’s take Maatiainen, one of the magazines I edit, as an example. It is published four times a year. The main topics of Maatiainen are gardening, animal husbandry and traditional landscapes. The magazine is financed entirely by subscriber income a.k.a. association membership fees. Its publisher is an association, whose purpose is to promote all these topics: Maatiainen ry.

Maatiainen comes out on February, May, October and December. There’s logic to these dates:

  • The first issue of the year is published in February together with a seed catalogue, the latter determining the publishing date for the magazine too. The seed sales are an important income source for the association, so this issue is very important.
  • Second issue comes out in May, just before the summer begins. This is a good time to escort readers to the delights of gardening and husbandry at the beginning of the peak season.
  • Third issue is published in October. It is the time of harvest, afterthought of summer’s activities and preparation to the autumn.
  • The fourth issue is published in December with Christmas theme.

This schedule has its pitfalls:

  • December and February issues are very close to each other, so in practice they’ve being made partly at the same time.
  • February is a bit late for seed orders, as other seed catalogues come out earlier. However, Maatiainen association gets its seeds in later. This is a bit of a problem.
  • There’s a very long pause between May and October issues. There are good reasons for it, though. For Maatiainen subscribers summer is an outdoor season, when reading is not the priority. It takes time after summer vacations to get in the articles from the contributors. And October is the natural harvest season, which gives a good theme for the autumn issue.

In other words there are quite a lot of external factors determining the publishing dates. How would you arrange Maatiainen’s publishing schedule? Let me know in the comments!

Advertising Model: Reader and Advertiser Both at the Throne

Are advertisers your financial backbone? In that case the needs of the businesses should be kept in mind, when planning the publishing schedule. This can be a difficult task in the withering ad markets of the print media.

Different types of businesses have very different needs regarding advertising. Supermarkets look for, if not daily, at least weekly publishing. Fortunately, the slower publishing rate works for the local small businesses. A plumber and a hairdresser are mostly looking for exposure, which suits perfectly for a magazine with more spread out publishing dates.

The other non-profit magazine I’m editing, Oulunkyläinen, is a good example of this.  Oulunkyläinen is a magazine published by Oulunkylä-Seura, a local residents’ association. The magazine is distributed in 11 boroughs and is an important platform for discussion on local issues. It is published as a tabloid newspaper and comes out six times a year.

The publishing months are February, March, May, September, October and late November. There’s a long pause in the summer with this magazine too. The reason for the pause is summer vacation, which keep both readers and voluntary contributors at bay. The publishing dates are set to precede major events: Valentine’s Day and the school winter break, Easter, the end of the school year and the start of the summer vacations, Halloween and the school autumn break, Christmas season. These are all also major commercial opportunities for businesses and thus interesting advertising seasons.

Would a different publishing schedule work better for this kind of magazine? The physical appearance of the magazine seems to arouse one recurring misunderstanding. A tabloid form being connected with daily newspapers, it is difficult for the readers and contributors to understand that the magazine is in fact a periodical. There are similar local magazines in Helsinki published by associations that come out monthly or even weekly.

Next year there will be an exception to the normal publishing schedule. Communal elections are being held in Finland on the 9th April and thus it is important to publish the second issue right before the elections. Why so? There are two main reasons: to have the opportunity to dwell in important community issues on the articles and to get the ever so important candidate advertisements in the magazine.

This brings us to the second main factor of magazines financed by advertisements. It is important to think businesses when planning the publishing schedule, but it is equally important to keep the readers in mind. Because ultimately, the magazine is interesting for the advertisers only, if it is interesting for the readers. With timely, discussion provoking content, which also the readers deem important, it is possible to create and maintain a broad readership.

What is your publications publishing schedule and what’s the logic behind it?



How to Stay within the Word Limit?


How to write a concise text?

I’m just between two publications – one is almost ready for print, the deadline for materials to the other is in a few days. Having edited a bunch of texts and returned a few for rewriting to their authors, I think it’s a good time to write about the art of writing a concise text.

All too often I receive an article with double the amount of text that was originally agreed on. And it’s quite understandable in the non-profit publications. Contributors rarely are writing for living, instead they most often are writing out of passion to the topic – they have much to say. I as the editor, on the other hand, have only limited amount of pages to offer. To make the equation work, cuts are inevitable.

This is not the perfect scenario for many reasons; the contributors often don’t like it, it increases the work load of the editing process and regarding some skillfully constructed articles it is difficult to cut any excess that really isn’t there.

Better to write to the correct length from the start.

3 enemies of a concise text

One simple rule to writing goes a long way: planning. Plan ahead what you want to say about the topic. What are the angle, scope and elements of the text – is there going to be quotations from an interview, for example. Then allocate space for all these within you text range and take care not to overstep the limit.

If you find afterwards there’s too much text anyway, check that you haven’t fallen victim to the three major enemies of concise text:

  1. Redundancy. This is surprisingly common in all texts.
  2. Excessive use of adverbs and adjectives. One modifier is quite enough and often you don’t need any!
  3. Rambling. Is everything you’ve written really within the topic?

With these three things in control, you should be able to keep your text in line. And if you truly have too much to say for just one article, consider turning it into a series!

Hungry for more detailed advice? Mark Nichol at DailyWritingTips has some sound advice for streamlining your writing.



Non-profit Publications – What Are They?


Do you need more than an editor to make a publication?

My home country, Finland, is sometimes called the promised land of associations. We have approximately 135 000 registered associations with a population of 5 million. It perhaps illustrates this nation’s eagerness to formalize even the grass root activities. Many of these associations also publish their own magazines or periodicals.

Very often this publication is the result of one member’s efforts. It is published when enough material has been gathered. In the other end of the spectrum are the magazines of very large non-profits. These publications are put together by media companies that specialize in client magazines. In between these two extremes, there are quite a few professional and ambitious publications, made by tiny editorial teams.

Most often the staff consists of an Editor-in-chief and a graphic designer (and sometimes even these are just one person). All the articles and photos are acquired from volunteer contributors. Thus the quality range can be wide and articles sometimes require a lot of editing before they can be published. On the other hand, volunteer contributors are often the most passionate and committed experts in their own field.

Where do you find content?

The field of the non-profit determines what kind of articles one can get to its publication. Some fields are filled with prolific writers, who are eager to share their experiences and studies. It might be that a non-profit publication is for these writers an excellent outlet to spread their knowledge. This is of course a win-win situation for all: the writer, the non-profit and the readers.

The lifeline of the local newspapers, published by non-profit associations, is the hunger to get exposure for local issues by organizations and local residents. Residents often find the local newspaper an important channel to influence communal politicians and bureaucrats alike and to bring forward topics that the national media doesn’t pay attention to. This kind of local media is in fact an excellent way to promote a common cause by bringing together local associations and other groups.

Are you a non-profit publication editor?

I am the Editor-in-chief for two non-profit publications: Maatiainen and Oulunkyläinen. Maatiainen is a specialist magazine focusing on heritage plant and domestic animal species. The scope of the magazine is broad; it covers topics from eco-friendliness to traditional tools. Gardening, husbandry and traditions yield an infinite treasure trove of topics. Oulunkyläinen is a local newspaper. It is published in Helsinki, in 11 suburban neighborhoods and it reports about all sides of the local life. In this publication, local events, people and small companies are in focus.

All though I run two non-profit publications, the field itself is somewhat unfamiliar to me. In Finland there is no common platform for people making this kind of publications. Should we have one? I would certainly like to exchange thoughts with other non-profit editors every now and then. These publications share some special features that people at larger commercial publications are not aware of.

Are you also making a non-profit publication? Drop me a line in the comments and share your thoughts!