Laying a paper trail - Issue 69 - Magazine | Monocle

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Gunilla Herlitz

CEO, Dagens Nyheter

Gunilla Herlitz is the ceo of Sweden’s largest morning newspaper that, in a tough market, has managed to increase both its readership – to over 800,000 readers – and online advertising revenue. But competition for Dagens Nyheter (DN), owned by Bonnier, is fierce, especially in the online news segment. TV channels such as national broadcaster svt and commercial station tv4 are investing heavily in web content to compete with DN and Schibsted-owned tabloid Aftonbladet, Sweden’s most successful newspaper and online news site. In turn, papers have increasingly started to venture into video.

Monocle met Herlitz to talk about the future of newspapers and discuss the idea of Sweden as a test lab for new media models.

Monocle: How is ‘Dagens Nyheter’ doing at the moment?
Gunilla Herlitz: A lot of talk around print media is very negative but we’re standing on solid ground. Daily press, especially morning press, gets undeservedly negative criticism. We’ve got more readers than ever and our subscribers are very loyal. The majority of our revenue still comes from Dagens Nyheter on paper – from subscriptions and advertising. The digital revenue is less than 10 per cent of the total. What’s interesting is that previously, advertising revenue stood for a lion’s share of our income but now more than half of it comes from subscriptions.

M: What are your plans for the brand?
GH: Dagens Nyheter is turning 150 years old in 2014. I still think it will be published on paper for many years to come. But at some point Dagens Nyheter will, like other daily newspapers, only be distributed digitally. The challenge is the journey to get there. But in that sense I’m very optimistic because this is not a crisis for journalism – the demand for that is still enormous.

M: So you don’t adhere to the model at ‘Aftonbladet’, where it seems that online news is what matters most?
GH: It is different for different papers. Evening papers’ circulation is falling dramatically but our model is different and it’s pretty good: charging the readers beforehand for something that gets delivered to their mailbox with a subscription.

M: How do you make news judgements? Do you save scoops for the morning paper or publish as soon as possible online?
GH: In some ways those are the kinds of discussions we had before but nowadays all that happens naturally. If we have a big scoop that reporters have been working on for weeks we do save that for the morning paper but that’s mostly because we want to save it for our subscribers. For them, the paper DN is still the primary channel.

M: Does Sweden work as a kind of test lab for new media models?
GH: The fact that we’re so small, only nine million people, is a limitation. But at the same time we, like the other Scandinavian countries, have always had a high degree of penetration: many people read newspapers. And we’re very connected. So in that way Sweden is a good market to test on.

The online option

“There is talk about newspaper’s online video news challenging TV but that’s misleading. We’re not comparing like with like: clicks aren’t the same as viewing figures. No one comes close to Aftonbladet in digital but DN, as well as all the other morning papers, will need to move in that direction to stay sustainable. If you can illustrate something through moving images, why shouldn’t you? But all papers have one problem – how to turn on new younger subscribers.”
Marie Nilsson, Mediavision analysts and consultants, Stockholm

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