As I would learn that day – and from subsequent presentations by Nedregotten over the years – the Amedia Executive VP was quite comfortable on stage, a masterful storyteller. And he had a good story to tell: How this large local newspaper group, with about 80 mostly small titles spread all over Norway, had more than righted the ship of YoY decline by methodically embracing and building a forward-looking data structure that would lay the foundation for its successful digital subscription strategy.
I was pleasantly surprised that day by just how much practical data and information Nedregotten revealed at such an event. Actually, in that sense I shouldn’t have been so surprised… it is a Scandinavian signature: to be quite open about what works and what doesn’t work.
Knowing that Norway is a small country with its own language, has an historically strong newspaper market, and a tech savvy population, I wanted to ask Nedregotten: could Amedia’s experience and strategy be replicated in another local market?
His response: “Why not! Look, there are unique things to our situation and market that we indeed have leveraged, but there are things unique to other publishers in other markets that they can also leverage to their benefit – and some are doing so. One thing is certain: we all have to engage our audiences if we want to succeed, and it’s hard work… every day.”
Well, that was 2017. Today Amedia continues to grow and impress (as that simple chart above shows). I zapped over five questions to Pål recently that turned into six – to find out how he feels about the upcoming year and other Amedia initiatives and strategy.
WAN-IFRA: How would you say Amedia is positioned to navigate the current/coming uncertainty regarding the macro issues of inflation, energy crisis/rising material prices (printing/distribution), forecasts of ad spend cutbacks within the next year?
Pål Nedregotten: I would say that we’re fairly well positioned.
We’re financially healthy, and have successfully navigated the transition to digital so far. That transition is ongoing; we’re now at a healthy +60 percent digital subscription share. Additionally, our digital advertising business is growing, and outpacing the market. That gives us a solid backdrop to weather the upcoming headwinds.
That is not to say the next phase of our development is going to be painless. Digital subscriptions have plateaued in Norway, albeit at a high level. And with the economic backdrop, we’re obviously concerned with the outlook for advertising spend.
We’re especially concerned with the outlook for our print newspapers. Print subscription decline is fortunately not accelerating, but the rising cost of print and physical distribution is troublesome, combined with an uncertain advertising outlook for print.
To sum up, I’d say we have a solid foundation to weather upcoming headwinds, but we are looking closely at costs and the period ahead will presumably be bumpy for all of us.
How is Amedia approaching its print strategy in terms of possible reduction in printing frequency in the near future?
We’ve reduced print frequency at more than 30 newspapers so far – three in the last month alone. That has gone remarkably well, with stronger digital products as an outcome. We’ve defined a best-practice playbook for reducing frequency, but any further moves will depend on the local situation on the ground. Reducing frequency is very much a bottom-up initiative, but guided by the strong experience across all our newspapers.
Amedia has been undergoing a long-term strategic transition that is rooted in input from the individual newspapers’ editorial staffs and empowered by data analytics. Each of the 80-plus local papers is creating its own editorial strategy for the next three years, supported by a group-level Editorial Development team. What can you tell us about how that has developed, and any lessons learned?
I guess the main takeaway is this: strong, local journalism matters for local people in their everyday lives. The journalism we thought was important turns out to be important. That said, we’ve learned a lot about how different editorial choices impact readership and subscriptions in different age groups. The choices we make as journalists and editors every day shape the impact of our journalism in different readerships.
Data from those choices – and their results – has informed all of our newsrooms when formulating their strategies – with necessary room for local maneuverability. It has been crucial for us that this has been a bottom-up process, respecting local strengths and potential for improvement. The strategy must be owned by the newsroom collectively to succeed.
So far, I’d say we’ve landed really well, but the proof in the pudding lies in the eating. Implementation of the strategies is now very much in the hands of our editors and journalists, coupled with strong data to guide those decisions.
Amedia is a beacon of inspiration for its comprehensive data strategy over the years… you have massive numbers of registered users and logins, great first-party data for creating targeted content and ad campaigns (just two examples). They say a house being built is never finished; what do you say about your ongoing data strategy?
The data strategy has essentially been unchanged since we formulated it in its current form in 2017. We’re mindful of the adage that “all models are wrong, but some are useful” – and ours has indeed proved very useful and delivered continuous value across all business areas. What has changed over the years is our level of maturity in working with data, within the structure of the strategy. That maturity has increased many times over since inception, and it’s hard to see how we’d be where we’re at in terms of data sophistication and business value without it.
What other areas outside the core revenue streams of reader revenue and advertising is Amedia pursuing and/or having success?
I actually think our singular focus on advertising and reader revenue over a period of many years is the very reason for our success so far – underpinned by our focus on strong editorial development. We need a solid product / market fit to continue that upwards trajectory. And succeeding in creating attractive and powerful journalistic products that meet the needs of different generations are crucial for both reader revenue and advertising. To that end, we’re currently investing in streaming rights (sports) as well as podcasts to supplement our already strong position. These investments tie directly into the local strategies in all of our newsrooms.
Lastly, will your Christmas holidays ever be the same after the cyber attack Amedia experienced last year? Any advice for publishers on that front? [Editor’s note: In late December of 2021, Amedia experienced an insidious Ransomware attack that Nedregotten described in brutal detail at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe conference earlier this year.]
I’ll probably think more than once about last year over the Christmas holidays, but this year, hopefully we’ll experience peaceful days, with good cheer, family and friends, snow and skiing!
In terms of advice, “be prepared” would be the best I can offer. Businesses let their guard down over the holidays, and cyber criminals know how to exploit that. Be prepared both in terms of knowing your cyber maturity levels across all aspects of your operation, including areas of weakness – but also have a clear contingency plan should anything bad happen. The first 24 hours after an attack is crucial to master – and knowing who does what quickly is essential.
But here’s to you not needing that advice!