SCANDINAVIAN MEDIA: Scandinavian newspapers on the attack; Chasing the Holy Grail of the personalised newspaper

Scandinavia’s sophisticated system of newspaper production and delivery means the individualised paper could become a reality, Stovin Hayter reports

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

targeted environment.

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%

Source: Carat



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