Scandinavia: Paper weight

Scandinavians still love their papers, but local print houses are morphing into world-beating, multi-platform media outfits, Mark Tungate says.

While the rest of the world wonders how newspaper brands will adapt to the digital revolution, it seems that the Scandinavians are busy getting on with living the reality.

At the end of last year, at the Society of Editors conference in Glasgow, a regional daily in Denmark was described as "the most futuristic newspaper in the world".

Lars Jespersen, the editor of that paper, Nordjyske Stiftstidende, is more modest about its achievements. "Nordjyske Medier is often quoted as being quite sophisticated in terms of our integration of different media channels: we offer paid-for papers, free papers, free weeklies, magazines, radio, TV - with 24-hour local news - and the internet. We have changed the organisation so that the newsroom and sales staff are working across media."

It was this model that inspired the Telegraph Group to create its multimedia newsroom last year. If Scandinavia is a barometer for press trends, it looks as if the future of newspapers is not electronic, but multi-platform.

Print is far from dead. "Scandinavians are still big newspaper readers," Malene Birkebaek, the client services director at Carat, Copenhagen, says. "Around 72 per cent of Danes read a paper every day, and we're the lowest consumers in the region. That rises to 85 per cent in Finland and Sweden and 90 per cent in Norway."

The reasons are relatively simple. The first newspapers appeared in the region in the 18th century. In Denmark, there was only one TV channel before 1988. Two local media giants, Bonnier in Sweden and Schibsted in Norway, have shown foresight in their use of design, technology and distribution channels. And the Scandinavian press is run on a subscription model, so a majority of readers receives newspapers at home. Julia Nyberg, the print director at Mediaedge:cia in Sweden, says 93 per cent of the population has a newspaper subscription. "A paper is part of the daily routine," she says.

Although Scandinavians are also well-known technology addicts, it's hard to believe that newspapers will vanish. As Birkebaek says: "They may become a luxury reserved for less hectic moments. We have had electricity for a long time, but we still use candlelight for certain occasions."

As a result, newspapers continue to take by far the largest chunk of media spend in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, with expenditure growing in all markets, according to Zenith-Optimedia. Alternative figures from Initiative suggest that daily newspapers take 55 per cent of total ad share in the region, compared with 36 per cent for Europe as a whole.

Casting a shadow over the Scandinavian print landscape is Metro. Born in Stockholm a mere 12 years ago, it is now the world's most widely distributed newspaper and claims a total readership of 21.5 million for its various editions across 20 countries. "Our success indicates that the future of newspapers is free," Christian Quarles, Metro International's Nordic regional marketing director, says.

As Quarles points out, other media groups have fallen over themselves to copy the formula. Free newspaper skirmishes are playing out right across the Nordic region. In Denmark, Metro Express is up against Nyhedsavisen, 24 Timer and Dato. The latter is owned by Orkla Media - the company acquired by David Montgomery's Mecom in July 2006. Orkla also publishes the Danish daily Berlingske Tidende. Word was that Montgomery pushed Orkla to come up with a free title in record time, launching last autumn.

"Nyhedsavisen, 24 Timer and Dato appeared last year, and they all claim a circulation of roughly 500,000, as opp-osed to 629,000 for Metro Express," Birkebaek says. "We've saw the resilience of niche newspapers such as the religious affairs title Kristelig Dagblad (which claims a circulation of 25,000). Taken together, they're slowing the decline in newspaper readership."

In a far bigger league, another successful niche title is Dagens Industri, the 30-year-old Swedish business newspaper owned by Bonnier. Today, it has a circulation of 120,000, slightly down from the peak of 130,000 it achieved during Sweden's stock market boom of 2000. This media brand has also adopted a multi-platform strategy. Alongside the main newspaper, it has a weekend supplement, a website and a satellite and broadband TV channel.

One of its biggest challenges has been to attract younger readers, for whom it created the monthly lifestyle magazine Diego. Originally launched as a standalone title a year-and-a-half ago, it is now a monthly supplement. Dagens Industri has a readership of 391,000, of which around 121,000 are aged between 20 and 39.

The success of niche titles and free newcomers represents a challenge for the established media groups equal to the rise of the web. But, like Bonnier, Schibsted has proved agile. Alongside the heavyweight Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, it owns the popular tabloid Aftonbladet, which has a circulation of 450,000. The tabloid has been online since the mid-90s, and media buyers confirm that its website is the most popular in Scandinavia. Since October last year, it has also had a TV channel, Aftonbladet TV7, broadcast via digital terrestrial, satellite and broadband. Schibsted has also developed news and entertainment services for mobile devices. And, naturally, it has its own free newspaper, Punkt SE. It has taken a similarly advanced multi-platform approach with its Norwegian daily, Verdens Gang.

Although Aftonbladet competes with Metro, Quarles admires the older paper's adaptability. "It saw the possibility of the web early on. But we are about to concentrate our efforts in that sector, and although it's too early to provide details, we'll be emerging with services that are as pioneering as our paper."

Quarles stresses the key to multi-platform success lies in maintaining a strong brand, something Metro is trying with initiatives such as its Metro On Stage rock concerts in Sweden. "The challenge for us is to position Metro as a premium brand, which is a hard thing to do when your product is free," he admits.

In the middle of this, one thing looks certain: Scandinavians are unlikely to get out of the newspaper habit just yet.

Owner: Schibsted
Founded: 1830
Circulation: 450,000 (daily)
Media platforms: Newspaper, web, TV, mobile

Owner: Bonnier
Founded: 1976
Circulation: 120,000 (daily)
Media platforms: Newspaper, magazines, web, TV

Owner: Metro International
Founded: 1995
Circulation: 760,000 (daily)
Media platforms: Free newspaper, web