Mats Lothen, Thomas Mattsson, and Bengt Ottosson at a grocery store checkout in Stockholm
Mats Lothen, Thomas Mattsson, and Bengt Ottosson at a grocery store checkout in Stockholm

I visited last week with the executive team at Expressen, a 300,000-circulation popular national daily based in Stockholm, Sweden, about the trials and tribulations of publishing in a recession.

Like all daily newspapers, the recession is impacting advertising sales and generally making life tougher for everyone. Yet like most popular dailies worldwide, their unique business model shields them from the worst from today’s downturn.

“Popular” newspapers are populist in nature, and Expressen’s wasp symbol and its slogans “It Stings” and “Expressen To Your Rescue” tie the tabloid closely to the reader.

Its business model is one-third advertising and two-thirds circulation, all single-copy in nature. About 55% of Expressen’s business model is traditional newspaper publishing – even shielded, stung itself by a recession that has devastated the country’s automotive industry. The other 45% of its revenue comes from sales of DVDs, books, and supplements bundled with the newspaper at the point-of-sale. Fully one-third of its profitability comes from these brand extensions.

Unique to Sweden is that there aren’t newsstands or street kiosks like you might see in continental Europe. And there certainly aren’t newsracks that you might see in North America. Instead, the Bonnier-owned Expressen and its competitor, Schibsted-owned Aftonbladet, compete in retail outlets like supermarkets.

All of this leads to the curious conclusion to my lunch with the Expressen team atop the former Bonnier corporate headquarters in Stockholm. After lunch, President Bengt Ottosson, Editor Thomas Mattsson, and Marketing/Sales Director Mats Löthen (seen in the accompanying photo) said they wanted to take me to the supermarket – curious, to say the least.

Yet in walking through the next-door supermarket, the Expressen executives were introducing me to their domain: How to fight for the attention of shoppers. With 10,500 retail outlets nationwide, Expressen uses its infrastructure to market and sell DVDs, books, supplements, and more. Throughout the Stockholm grocery store, flat-screen TVs above produce and packaged goods promoted Expressen and its supplements which were available at the checkout stand. And the checkout stand itself was a battleground for attention, with DVDs and supplements and a magazine tied to Expressen on one shelf and Expressen itself on the other shelf.

It is a very different environment from subscription newspapers that view single-copy sales as an afterthought and single-copy audiences as below their target advertisers’ radar screens.

Yet it works for Expressen, a newspaper that escaped extinction in the early 2000s before repositioning its cost structure, boosting its circulation, and becoming a profitable partner in the Bonnier stable that includes quality daily Dagens Nyheter, as well as the group’s books, broadcasting, and magazine businesses.