By DREW HALFNIGHT
Over 70 per cent of Swedes read a morning paper. Norway teems with over 100 healthy dailies. Finnish papers have the third-highest readership in the world.
Do publishers and editors in Scandinavia know something we don’t?
With that question in mind, 15 leading North American publishers and editors headed to Norway and Sweden in September for a week-long slate of visits to seven of the region’s most successful media companies. Organized by the Suburban Newspapers of America (SNA), the conference traveled from Trondheim and Bergen in Norway to Stockholm, Sweden.
Attendees quickly discovered the rumours were true: Scandinavia is a news oasis that has somehow avoided the major decline in both ad placement and reader retention that has dogged many Western markets.
“Part of that is sheer luck,” said John Hinds, conference participant and CEO of the Canadian Newspaper Association and the Canadian Community Newspapers Association. “They’re linguistically small communities, and they’re geographically isolated. They’ve traditionally had very poor television… so there’s a culture of reading newspapers. They’re not part of the North American media market the way we are.”
Still, participants raved about the spirit of innovation they witnessed on the trip.
“They’re very, very conscious of moving away from traditional newspapers. ‘We’re no longer newspapers; we’re platforms of information,’” Hinds said, paraphrasing an executive who spoke on the trip. “Unlike the Canadians and North Americans, they’re fixated on change.”
Dave Greber, multimedia reporter with the Hamilton Journal News in Hamilton, Ohio, said he was “in awe” of the forward thinking he saw in Scandinavia.
“The first place we went, Adresseavisen, was monumental in terms of their desire to be out on the cutting edge,” Greber said. “They’re investing in web video right now, not because it’s making money, but because they know it will in the future. It’s so refreshing to see media companies investing in the future.”
With over 90 per cent of adults and teens online in some Scandinavian countries – a much higher percentage than in Canada, the U.S. or the U.K. – newspapers in the region are aggressively investing in online media. Dagbladet, Norway’s third-largest paper, owns a social networking site that counts a membership of 350,000, a sizeable majority of the country’s youth. This would be comparable to, say, the National Post owning Facebook.
Conference attendees also heard about finn.no, a hugely successful classified advertising page owned by Norwegian media giant Schibsted.
SNA president Nancy Lane marveled at the Scandinavians’ willingness to invest in new markets and technologies, lamenting the North American tendency toward cost-cutting.
“One of the key takeaways was that complacency doesn’t exist over there,” she said. “We’re seeing that from certain companies here, but not enough.”
Betty Carr, Vice President and Regional Publisher Metroland Media Group’s Toronto region, said she picked up the notion of “following the eyeballs” from one of the trip’s speakers – wherever people are reading, newspapers should follow.
“We think we’re moving quite fast. I don’t know. Perhaps we need to go faster,” Carr said. “We have to look at every single location where we can get the eyeballs.”
In Scandinavia, innovation has trickled