With a strategy based on readers’ needs, Sweden’s SvD is working towards digital sustainability

Scandinavian media group Schibsted has made no secret of its goal to generate close to €100 million in digital reader revenue at some point next year. Here’s how its quality daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in Sweden is doing its part.

by Simone Flueckiger | December 16, 2019

“We have an important vision and mission, but we do need to be digitally sustainable and profitable,” said Anna Careborg, the paper’s CEO and editor-in-chief, during last week’s Claves 2020 conference in Madrid.

As part of this journey, quality morning paper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD), which has a hybrid paywall model and launched digital subscription in 2013, has been moving towards a more reader-focused and data-informed strategy.

Based on interviews with more than 1,300 digital news readers who are willing to pay or already pay for news, SvD created 10 principles that will guide the brand moving forward:

  • Our readers are our focus
  • We are always relevant
  • We add something unique
  • We respect our readers ability to think for themselves
  • We provide multiple perspectives
  • We care about our readers’ time
  • We care about quality
  • We are transparent
  • We collaborate
  • We dare to try new things

SvD is putting particular emphasis on three areas, she said: producing journalism focused on readers’ needs, improving collaboration between departments, and investing in innovation.

In line with its reader-focused approach, SvD created a four-field editorial model.

“Our readers want to understand what’s happening in the news, they want to be able to make smart decisions in their daily life, they want to know the bigger picture, where we are heading, and they also want content that relates to their interests and identities,” Careborg said.

In a bid to make the newsroom more data-informed, the editorial, data analysis, and sales departments are working together more closely, and newsroom staff have been given access to a tool named “Oracle”, which helps determine when an article should go behind the paywall.

“We also have to innovate,” Careborg said. “Going forward we have to have the advertisers with us to find different kinds of revenue streams.”

Experimentation can be done in small steps, she pointed out, sharing a recent example that quickly fo

und success among subscribers. Based on the theory of Spotify playlists that assume listeners’ needs (i.e. you want to listen to a different playlist when you’re going for a run as opposed to when you’re studying), SvD launched a “morning report” newsletter, giving an overview of the most important news stories distributed at 6.30 AM.

“We now have more than 40 000 subscribers reading that report every morning,” Careborg said. “This is an example of how we can build relationships in different ways.”

During the Claves 2020 conference, WAN-IFRA caught up with Anna Careborg to learn more about SvD’s strategy.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WAN-IFRA: Over the past years, most brands across Schibsted have focused on reader revenue strategies and continuing transformation. How has SvD benefited from that?

Anna Careborg: Our goal is to be sustainable digitally and all the brands are aiming for that within a couple of years, but where you are on this train varies. As Svenska Dagbladet, we have a print legacy, so it’s very important for us to put even more effort into that journey. We’ve seen that people are willing to pay for news, for what we do, so now we have to convince them that it’s worth it, and make sure that we keep them and create habits.

There is a lot of knowledge-sharing, and I think that is crucial. It’s very important that we can share best practices among our brands going forward. It’s an advantage for us. Also, we have to look at these synergistic effects of working together. In consumer business, the staff work closely with the newsroom at Svenska Dagbladet but report to Tor Jacobsen, who is SVP Consumer marketing and Revenue at Schibsted Media. We have this matrix function, so they are working both for Schibsted and for Svenska Dagbladet.

How is your editorial strategy evolving?

I think it’s so interesting to look at needs instead of topics. If you look at how people are consuming us digitally, it’s mainly on mobile and it’s a limited space, so you have to be relevant for them. We are now in the process of reinventing our home page. Now, we organise towards working more with that four-field model because when we asked readers, they said they want a complete experience, they want those different types of content. They don’t want only news.

I think now that we understand more about relevance, we don’t really have the time to put out ‘not-so-good’ stories. When you look at print products, the readers buy the package, and you don’t know how many of them are actually reading every story. Now we can see how people consume our news when we analyse the data.

I have three ‘banned’ content types in the newsroom: One is stories that look too much like a Wikipedia entry. If we do that today, no one will read it. We have to do real journalism. The other ones are ‘anniversary stories’, something that took place 15 years ago or 20 years ago. They are fictive angles, nothing new has happened. Journalism needs to be about the future, not about the past. The third one, which is the most difficult one to ban in the newsroom, are the ‘why not’ stories. That is a combination of time-pressed editors and reporters that have an idea that is not bad but not great either. When we produce these ‘why not’ stories, we are occupied with this, and don’t have the resources to produce the must-tell stories. And we must start with those.

How does this affect the newsroom’s organisation?

If you start with the must-tell stories, it can differ from one day to another what people really care about, what is relevant, and then we have to organise in a different way in the newsroom.

Now, we are creating a hub with five editors from Svenska Dagbladet from culture, business, news, who are working together to find the best stories to tell, not the best stories from their respective silos, but starting with what readers want to know and care about. Working this way might reduce the volume of content, but I think we have to do that. The volume of content was created because newspapers needed to be filled. But if you start with the readers, and the must-tell stories, you can skip others. If we can provide the perfect mix of those four fields, we create a greater product that engages the audience.

One challenge is that we have to keep up the print product, and if we fill it with too much news agency content, the audience reacts… so it’s a balance. But we have started to de-prioritise content that isn’t being read or is relevant.

How has your algorithmically-driven homepage evolved over the past years?

We went very much into that algorithm, and it has served us very well. We’ve worked with it for four years, so we’ve learned much more about it. Now, we can put in editors’ choices where we think it will be good for us, and still work with algorithms.

We also created newsletters without the human touch, and they perform well. But the morning report [an overview of the most important news stories opened and read by more than 40 000 subscribers] is created by a reporter, you can see his or her name, and it’s a lot more personal. I believe in both those, and not having the algorithm go at it all alone. I believe strongly in the combination of data and craftsmanship – not editors just following their own gut feeling, but being data-informed in their decisions.

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