Digital-only subscribers in first six weeks

Return on investment

payback time for the whole investment
(based on actual sales results)

Business results:

  • Consumer sales: 175 000+ digital subscriptions & increase in print circulation
  • Advertising sales: Number of visitors remained on pre-paywall level → no negative effect on advertising revenue
  • Return on investment: Forecast based on actual sales gives a payback time of less than 6 months for whole investment

In the long run, paying for content ensures high quality journalism. Offline as well as online.

- Mikael Pentikäinen, Editor-in-chief, Helsingin Sanomat



Increase the online Average revenue per user (ARPU)

Get completely new digital subscribers

Strengthen HS as a quality news brand in all channels


Media consumption is transforming into digital at an increasing pace. Helsingin Sanomat print newspaper's circulation has been in constant, although still slow, decline since the 90s. Inceasing the price is not a viable option to keep the print circulation sales on a growth path forever.

HS has grown its visitor volumes and digital revenue constantly: the site had an average 1,42M unique weekly browsers in 2011. As the ARPU of a print reader was more than 3400% higher than a web visitor (2011), it's clear more money has to be made from digital to secure a sustainable business in the future.


Our mission was to create a sustainable solution for monetising Finland's leading journalism brand and create an user experience which builds upon the one, unified Helsingin Sanomat brand.

We created a framework with monetisation scenarios based on user-driven value propositions.

Helsingin Sanomat decided to completely revise its digital strategy. Up until that point the online news in had been completely free for the users (constantly updated for desktop and mobile browsers, mobile and tablet apps) and the digital daily versions of the print newspaper content had been behind payment.

After a thorough pre-study of different strategic options in Q4/2011, it was decided to further analyse the so-called Paywall model, i.e. to change online strategy from content based paywall (online news being free, digital format print news being paid for) to consumption based paywall (everything is free and at the same time everything is paid for depending on the amount of articles read in a given time frame).

Multiple focus groups were interviewed and quantitative research was carried out. All research indicated that there had been a change in peoples' mindset about paying for online content. High quality journalism was seen by many interviewees valuable enough to pay for also in digital. Even the highest estimates of the online advertising growth potential were not seen as high enough to finance HS content creation in the long term so it was clear consumer sales were needed. Consumer sales had struggled with the free online news as was seen being "good enough" as in contrast many were willing to pay for the printed content.

Metered paywall model, i.e. no more free, was seen highly potential in both combo sales (bundling print subscription with digital) and in pure digital sales. It was also seen a smart move marketing wise as the situation with the free had been partly schizophrenic: free online should not be "too good" for people to be willing to pay for 'better quality content', but still 'the best in Finland' to keep up the brand image of quality news source.

HS editorial management saw the Paywall model as an opportunity to start creating truly multi-channel HS content, using the editorial resources in all channels to the fullest.

No more 'must not be too good', free online news produced by a small online desk, but the best of class HS content, created by the full editorial staff of more than 350, in all channels: online, radio, print - and from Nov 2012 onwards also TV, as Nelonen TV-news started to be created by HS staff.

In Feb 29th 2012 HS management made a decision to go forward with planning of 'HS Arvo', i.e. metered paywall model. 

Crystallising the consumer value framework was of utmost importance. Common understanding of the consumer's willingness to pay was established by visualising the complex models and variables.

- Petteri Putkiranta, Business Director, Helsingin Sanomat

Concept for complete service renewal

Each strategic focus area went through a meticulous design cycle. High quality journalism, seamless multi-channel user experience and a subscription-based, porous paywall became the key drivers for the service concept.

Design Process

Reach, Engage, Activate, Nurture

Metered paywall model, i.e. no more free, was seen as highly potential in both combined sales (bundling print subscription with digital) and in pure digital sales. It was also seen a smart move marketing wise as the situation with the free had been partly schizophrenic: free online should not be "too good" so that people would be willing to pay for "better quality content"; but still "the best in Finland" to keep up the HS brand image of a quality news source.

Content development within a contextual framework's existing content sections (e.g. food, travel, cars, local news), as well as partnerships (e.g. online dictionary and the portal) were analyzed from both an advertising potential point of view as well as their capabilities of bringing in unique visitors. Also Sanoma internal co-operation in traffic funneling and in-house advertising were analyzed and discussed with other business units.

Metered model paywall

Designs went through careful usability testing and were revised throughout a total of three rounds of testing. A lot of effort was put into the purchase path from hitting the wall to actual conversion. The model was set as five free articles per week per single browser. Social media entries would add users article counter but be always free.

Using personas for a deeper understanding of the users needs and desires. The personas were continuously validated with user research, focus groups and usability tests. We aimed at delivering a high impact personal and engaging user experience rather than a plain broad coverage of news.

On June 14th 2012 HS management decided to go for the metered paywall model and Sanoma News management group supported the decision. It was seen a strategically smart move for Sanoma News to differentiate its two largest online news sites: the bigger one ( continuing free, advertising based, and aiming at consumer income (still maintaining its advertising sales).

Story first, not print or digital first.

HS editorial management saw the paywall model as an opportunity to start creating true multi-channel news content, using the editorial resources in all channels to the fullest extent. No more 'must not be too good', free bulletin news produced by a small online desk, but the best-of-class, quality HS content. Created by the full editorial staff of more than 350 people; in all channels: online, radio, print - and from November 2012 onwards also TV, as the Nelonen TV news content started to be created by HS staff.

One brand – in all channels

Discontinuing use of separate, web-oriented branding (referring to as a separate brand) in favour of having Helsingin Sanomat as the one, leading brand in all channels and comms.

User Experience

Key features were perfected after validating each phase with thorough user research and testing.

Real users at the heart of the redesign

Research assumption was validated when participants revealed their demands for high quality and feature journalism which was one of the core elements in the new concept.The look and feel of the new Helsingin Sanomat in both desktop & mobile browsers and mobile & tablet apps was further developed and functional prototypes were made. A lot of effort was put into the purchase path, from hitting the paywall to conversion.

Designs went through careful usability testing and were revised after a total of three rounds of tests.A large panel research was conducted, still verifying the model, assessing its risks, as well as finding the right price points and product bundles. Technical architecture was designed and RFP put out. Business model calculations and KPIs were finalised. 

Mobile UX architecture

Helsingin Sanomat has native applications for all major mobile platforms and it has over 500.000 weekly mobile website visitors. We redesigned the mobile website based on the overall concept and created the mobile UX architecture for production companies.

Visit the HS mobile site (use a mobile device)
Download the HS application for iOS
Download the HS application for Android
Download the HS application for Windows Phone (8 and 7.5)

Responsive framework / Digilehti

The dynamic nature of news translated into a modular design pattern approach for the responsive Daily paper.

Multi-channel purchase flows

Research provided us the starting point for product pricing and features. One of the most challenging tasks was to lower the threshold of purchase in a multi-channel environment. We optimised the purchase flows for mobile and desktop users individually to reveal the similarities and unique requirements for each purchasing channel. Both flows went through thorough user research with contextual immersion of actual customers. We validated the choice architecture and purchasing behaviour with two separate usability studies. After launch, the purchase flows were revisited and optimized with wide array of online analytics.

A holistic approach to designing and managing the user experience in a dynamic environment was key to success. Overall I am extremely satisfied with the results.

- Mikael Liljedahl, Head of Development, HSfi Dev

Launch & communications

The technical implementation was carried out well in time and within scope even though it had dependencies in several systems like CRM, online advertising, editorial system and Sanoma-wide analytics and user account management systems.

A large internal beta testing was conducted in Oct 2012 by channeling all traffic from Sanoma News internal network to the test environment.

Marketing and communications as well as consumer sales were carefully planned.

It was decided not to run a marketing campaign at launch, but communicate the renewal very carefully, and in several steps. It was clear the change was to be such a big news item in the Finnish media landscape it was best to openly put it out already in advance, thus letting the users get used to the idea.

A public, pre-release Q&A online chat was held well ahead of the transition already in August with the editor-in-chief and the digital director.

November 21st 2012 was the historical day in Finnish media history: the site of the biggest newspaper in all of the Nordic countries and one of the Top 5 biggest sites in Finland was turned from free to paid-for. The launch day was a success: all KPIs were exceeded. The launch was just the starting point for all the future work: rapid development goes on, journalists create valuable content every minute and sales have taken off. A bigger marketing campaign will take place in early 2013.

Communications focused on the new, unified brand. Marketing integrated into the purchase process seamlessly and the clear value proposition produced results that exceeded all expectations from day one.

- Meri Asikainen, Marketing Manager, Helsingin Sanomat

Designed in co-operation by

Cava Interactive

  • Juha Rouvinen

    Strategy lead responsible for building
    the monetisation model.

  • Mikko Kiviniemi

    Concept lead responsible for building
    the bespoke UX framework.

  • Kerkko Ulmanen

    Design lead responsible for
    the sophisticated visual experience.

Helsingin Sanomat

  • Petteri Putkiranta
  • Mikael Liljedal
  • Meri Asikainen
  • Kaisa Aalto
  • Samuli Jakobsson
  • Ville Volanen


  • Research:
  • Nero
  • Adage
  • Production:
  • MK&C
  • Futurice
  • Houston
  • Frantic