Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Can British newspapers find success by copying the Swedish tabloid press?

Scandinavia has some of the highest newspaper readership per head in the developed world. Part of this is down to the relative lateness of commercial broadcast channels (eg commercial radio was only introduced in the 1990s), but a large part of this is due to well developed CRM strategies.

Newspapers in Sweden are well established, well liked and consistently influence the social and political agenda. More significantly they have been leaders in online whereas in other markets newspapers have predominantly played catch up.

The Aftonbladet newspaper was one of the first publishers to successfully monetise online content and its subscription based ViktKlubb / diet club ( has been profitable from the start and as early as 2005 Norwegian newspaper publisher Schibsted was delivering 30% of its revenue from online enterprises. Further developments have seen the Aftonbladet create video content under the banner of Aftonbladet TV and Dagens Nyheter are even selling mobile phones with a special DN button that allows free mobile access to the Dagens Nyheter website.

The success of paid newspapers in Sweden is not primarily due to online though. Sweden is the birthplace of free newspaper Metro and the Scandinavian market has a well established free press with other titles like PunktSE and Urban in Denmark having high circulations. Paid newspapers in Scandinavia have therefore been forced to innovate in advance of other markets.

This is particularly evident with the tabloid press where the purchase model is different to other countries. Consumers buy the main paper and then pay for extras that they wish to add. Everyday papers produce a range of other quality add-ons that range from puzzle supplements through to glossy fashion and travel magazines. DVDs and books are also offered alongside the main paper but again these are paid for and accompany the base purchase of the main paper.

Typically readers will pay 10 kroner for the paper with a further 5-10 kroner for each supplement that they wish to add - with all supplements racked seperately next to the main papers. DVDs and books are of good quality and are charged at 59 kroner in addition to the main paper.

Most retailers (including supermarkets) have branded posters in the window with todays headlines and in supermarkets newspapers and supplements are sold at the till rather than near the entrance.

Can any of this be relevant in the UK?

Retail partnerships are clearly important and UK newspapers have been pushing to develop these - from polybagged copies for supermarkets through to CD / DVD promotions redeemable in store. These tie-ins are not quite at Scandinavian levels, but it will be hard to push these further.

There may be more mileage in product development rather than promotion. The Mail On Sunday sold You magazine as a standalone womens weekly in the UK, but this failed because they still gave it away free with the paper on Sunday. However I think the idea of charging for supplements could work.

There are obviously distribution and education challenges, but the idea of having 2 seperate packages could drive circulation. For a long time retailers sold both a broadsheet and compact version of the Times and Independent newspapers, why couldn't publishers follow a version of the Swedish model by selling a reduced price Lite version alongside a full price version that had all the sections and supplements? This could be particularly useful at weekends where Sunday newspaper sales are now experiencing significant declines.

The below photo shows how things are laid out at the till in Sweden (paper at the front with sections and supplements behind.)

I wonder if anyone is brave enough to try something like this in the UK?


Martin said...

I like the idea, but it would need to be done well. They should provide a complete contents of the 'full' edition online, by e-mail, through RSS, or even have it listed in each shop, if that's workable.

To this day, I don't know why so many features are buried inside supplements. How do consumers know if there's something of interest to them? I won't be buying all the papers just in case I find something good on page 12 of a Review supplement. But if I was aware of this exclusive content, I'd want to make the purchase. Is this just me?

While the vast majority of stories from the papers (including supplements) remain available for free on the Net, even this idea of two editions wouldn't have so much impact on sales in my opinion. But create a 'full' edition that isn't reproduced electronically (for free at least) and it may intice readers back.

I've largely stopped buying papers because I'm happy to read them online via the web and convenient RSS feeds. I would have paid as I previously did, but it's now easier, quicker, and uses less paper to read online.

Martin said...

One final thing (as if I haven't written enough already)...

10 Kronor is worth nearly 85 british pence. That's already more expensive than most daily papers in the UK. To add an extra 42-85p per supplement and the papers must be doing pretty well on that basis alone.

Do customers have to buy the paper in order to purchase any of the supplements?

Nick Burcher said...

Yes, the only way you get to buy the supplements / DVD offer etc is if you buy the newspaper first, but I'm not sure to what extent seperate circulation figures are issued for the extras.

They are more reliant on cover price though because they don't have the economies of scale for printing that other markets have (the highest circulation is just over 400,000).

Weekend prices compare favourably with UK newspapers (where the multi-section Sunday Times is now £2), but on a weekday you are right, they are relatively more expensive if the supplements are added - though this gives scope for the accompanying magazines to be glossier and better produced.

However in a market flooded with free press and high speed internet connections I think the continued loyalty of the readership is impressive.

Anonymous said...

As a person who has personally exported major Swedish online media concepts to the UK I can tell you that the big British media companies are the least prepared in Europe to monetize upon their online content. Why? Predominantly because there seems to be an abnormally high level of political competitiveness between online and paper commercial people. This leads to deadlock as neither wants to engage in an activity that might benefit the "other side of the business"

The hallmark trait of the successful Aftonbladet Viktklubb project or the Expressen GI Viktkoll project was that there was wonderful cooperation between paper and online editorial staffs and paper and online commercial staffs. Quite simple, synergy actually exists in Scandinavia!