Scandinavia’s sophisticated system of newspaper production and delivery
means the individualised paper could become a reality, Stovin Hayter
The idea of a newspaper that can be configured to the individual
requirements of its readers is an alluring one. Imagine a newspaper
reader being able to ask to receive only the daily business section and
the weekly motoring and sports supplements with the main paper and not
the women’s or travel sections. It could not only save the publisher
print and paper costs but also offer advertisers a more effectively
Of course, if this was easy to do, it would have already been done. The
‘personalised newspaper’ is a concept often talked about, but it has yet
to be truly put into practice. But, if it happens, it is likely to be in
The Nordic countries are sometimes called the ‘newspaper-intensive
north’ to distinguish them from the TV-dominated south of Europe. In
Norway there are 153 daily newspapers for a population of fewer than
five million. Their average circulation is around 10,000. Compare that
with Britain, where there are 135 dailies for more than 58 million
people. In Sweden and Finland, there are fewer daily papers but they
still reach more than 95 per cent of the adult population. The geography
of Scandinavia, with a few large cities and the rest of the population
scattered in small groups over extremely large areas, is a reason for
the large number of small-circulation dailies. It has presented the
national and larger, regional titles with logistical challenges.
Although some titles are aimed at casual purchasers from newsstands,
most newspapers are delivered to subscribers at home.
Around 3,500 people are involved in delivering the Norwegian broadsheet,
Aftenposten, to its subscribers, who make up 90 per cent of the 282,000
circulation, by 6am every day. The newspaper’s mailroom database holds
details of each one of them and is updated every day. In the central
area around Oslo alone, delivery of the newspaper has to be split into
1,300 different routes, each covering between 100 and 350 subscribers,
with five or six bundles of newspapers per route. Each bundle is
wrapped, together with a computer printout for the deliverer, giving
details of the subscribers the papers are destined for and any special
instructions such as stopped copies, new subscribers or any complaints
received from subscribers on that route the previous day.
‘The complexity of logistics and production is very challenging,’ says
Kaj Lonnblad, system development manager for the Swedish mailroom
manufacturer, IDAB Wamac. Publishers have been forced, simply by the
challenge of maintaining efficient delivery of the newspaper, to achieve
a level of personal service unheard of in most countries.
In Finland, as many as 25 per cent of newspapers are distributed as
single copies addressed to individuals and handled by the postal
service. At the Aamulehti production plant in Tampere, Finland, 20,000
copies a day out of the paper’s circulation of around 130,000 are sent
out in this way, with the subscriber’s name and address printed on to
the newspaper as it passes through the mailroom. And as Lonnblad points
out, once a newspaper is addressed, it becomes unique. It cannot be
delivered to any other customer. It is personalised. So why not take
this a few steps further and configure the newspaper itself according to
the requirements of readers or advertisers? Mailroom-inserting
technology allows newspapers to vary insertions down to the level of
individual deliverers’ bundles. The smallest bundle could be a single
copy. It enables publishers to take the idea of edition zoning to its
logical conclusion of the smallest possible zone - a single household.
The mailroom at Aamulehti in Finland is a case in point. Developed by
IDAB Wamac, it allows individual copies to be tracked throughout the
inserting and stacking process. ‘You could use it for demographical or
personalised inserting. It is just a question of time,’ Lonnblad says.
‘Scandinavia is the first market in the world where you have the data,
and the technology is available. The rest is now up to the imaginations
of the publishers and marketers.’
The idea of ‘sharp zoning’, as Lonnblad calls it, is regarded by many in
the newspaper industry as a kind of holy grail which would allow papers
to fight back against the direct marketing industry. Once derided as
‘junk mail’, direct marketing is now regarded in Scandinavia as the main
challenge to newspapers’ dominance as a medium for advertisers, far more
than TV or local radio. ‘TV has not grown as much as we expected,
largely because of the fragmentation of the audience with more channels.
The big competitor is direct mail. Supermarkets are going to direct mail
and that is a much bigger problem for newspapers than TV,’ says Niklas
Jonason, technical manager at the Swedish newspaper publishers’
association, Tidnings Utgivarna.
This view is also held in the advertising industry. ‘Retailers are not
interested in buying a newspaper’s total circulation. What they want is
more local advertising,’ John Lungkvist of Carat Research in Sweden,
The answer, for many papers, lies in the mailroom. Aamulehti in Finland
has concentrated on selling advertisers loose inserts which can be zoned
to different parts of the city, Tampere. ‘Our aim is to take a share of
the unaddressed mail market and the customers are mostly national
advertisers with local dealerships,’ Juha Blomster, the paper’s
marketing director, says.
Zoning could be taken to its logical conclusion - the single household
zone. But newspapers have found that the possible gains from this would
not outweigh the cost. ‘The profitability threshold is about 20,000
copies for an insertion,’ Blomster says. Aamulehti found it was not
cost-effective to do less, even with state-of-the-art technology.
Schibsted, the media group that publishes Aftenposten as well as the
newsstand tabloid, VG, is currently building a production plant in Oslo
costing around pounds 150 million. It will give it a similar inserting
capability to Aamulehti.
‘We could go down to single bundles but, in reality, we will be looking
at greater numbers than that. We will be looking to sell inserts down to
about 30,000 copies,’ says Svein Loken, the head of the project. ‘We
will also place a limit of no more than three inserts per copy because
there is some market resistance to large numbers of inserts,’ he adds.
There is a fear of over-reliance upon technology. It is one thing to
have small bundles and a sophisticated distribution system. It is quite
another to have a system in which it would take just a single copy of
the newspaper to be out of synchronisation to throw the entire day’s
circulation into jeopardy.
Marrying personalisation and customisation with a mass medium that
involves thousands of tons of raw material being consumed in a heavy
industrial process might prove to be too great a challenge.
As Aamulehti’s Blomster suggests, the answer probably lies elsewhere.
‘We can only hope to take market share from the unaddressed mail sector
at the moment. Electronic media and the Internet will ultimately be the
way in which newspapers compete with addressed mail. It will take time
before that is viable but we are starting to prepare ourselves for it.’
Newspapers in the media landscape: Scandinavia compared with the UK
Denmark Finland Norway Sweden UK
Population 5.2m 5m 4.3m 8.7 58.1m
Adult population 4.48 4.4m 3.6m 7.1m 45.8m
TV stations 6 7 7 7 35
Commercial TV stations 5 2 6 5 33
Radio stations 303 59 390 122 204
Commercial radio stations 170 43 150 93 160
Number of newspapers 340 230 203 175 2,024
Daily newspapers 40 56 153 102 135
Free newspapers 300 N/A 50 1 970
Newspaper reach 95% 99% 87.6% 73% 62%