Pia Rehnquist, editorial director at Bonnier News Local, described the philosophy that the Swedish news publisher has used to attract 2.2 million subscribers during WAN-IFRA’s World News Media Congress in Taipei recently.
“Don’t lose your self-confidence, but instead, find a sustainable business model to achieve profitability. Always reflect on why you do what you do,” she told delegates.
With more than 200 titles and media brands in 11 countries, Bonnier News is one of the largest media groups in the Nordics. This was not the case seven years ago.
“The newspapers were more like separate companies within a bigger company. We didn’t have that much cooperation,” Rehnquist said.
However, she said this changed when the company introduced four key strategies, all around sustainable profitability.
- Maintain print, which means leveraging money from the print business for overall transformation.
- A clear focus on digital subscription revenue
- Climb the advertising value chain
- Develop niches/new products, especially for new, younger audiences.
These strategies have proven to be successful and the numbers speak for themselves.
Today, Bonnier News boasts over 2.2 million subscribers of which 1.7 million are based in Sweden – a country with a population of 10 million. Half of the total subscribers are digital.
Speaking of which, the company’s +Allt subscription bundle launched in February has been “very successful,” Rehnquist said. It bundles all of Bonnier’s titles into one offer, costing only a few extra euros.
“It’s another way to earn more money from the products we already have. And we think it will help us with the problem of churn that we face with our digital subscriptions,” Rehnquist said.
In 2022, the company generated SEK 9.7 billion (approx. US$ 914 million) in revenue from its five business verticals, and it is SEK 9.9 billion (approx. US$ 933 million) for 2023. Its local news business includes around 45 local and regional newspapers, which experienced growth between 10 percent and 40 percent in terms of digital subscribers. Today, the company has 8,000 employees, 3,000 of which are journalists.
Path to success
Rehnquist shared five points that have helped Bonnier to succeed:
- Scale – Crucial for Bonnier News’ strategy, both when it comes to sharing costs and developing new products.
- Timing – Realising when to do what. Neither to stress nor to delay the transformation.
- Transparency – Crucial for a company with several titles. Even though some of the newspapers are competitors, they share everything (data, stats, etc.).
- Balance – As a fairly complex organisation, finding equilibrium between central and local hierarchies proves challenging, and frequent organisational changes are made.
- Common goals – Bonnier News has common KPIs and goals. This renders the overall success of the company important for each employee.
Looking ahead, the company has set some measurable goals for the upcoming strategy period, Rehnquist said.
- The first goal is to achieve a 12 percent EBITA margin through organic revenue growth, increased efficiency, and investment in selected acquisitions and partnerships
- Second, accelerate the transformation and achieve organic growth by 2 percent per year to reach SEK 10 billion (roughly US$1 billion) in revenues.
- Third, double the digital subscription revenue, supporting the long-term goal of doubling total subscription revenue in 10 years.
- Fourth, increase daily reach from 60 percent to 65 percent by investing in brands and content, to strengthen relevance – especially among younger audiences.
- Lastly, have continued strategic cost reductions and streamlining to enable investment in growth without increasing the total cost base.
Apart from achieving these goals, the company also invests in journalism, thereby reaching more people with its content through its growing ecosystem and subsequently increasing profits, Rehnquist said. At the same time, the company softens its paywall during a societal crisis to ensure its journalism is accessible to more people.
Bonnier News also has a common platform for content, customers and advertisers to reduce costs.
“This gives us more opportunities for developing new initiatives and to find new approaches to engage our customers,” she added.
“I’m sure that the Nordic strategy won’t work everywhere in the world, but you have to find your own strategy and make it work,” Rehnquist concluded.