Aftonbladet’s mobile apps deliver mobile news and sports via their strategy to reach audience engagement.
Aftonbladet’s mobile apps deliver mobile news and sports via their strategy to reach audience engagement.

Editor’s note: This is one of 19 case studies featured in INMA’s strategic report “Smartphone App Lessons for Media Companies,” released in July.  

Sweden’s Aftonbladet has seen great growth in its mobile readership and is making mobile central to its overall strategy, working to convert more of its mobile readers into app users.

Currently, about 60% of readers access Aftonbladet by mobile phone, with an additional 10% of users coming through tablets and just 30% by desktop, says Rickard Tornblad, a product manager for the company. With about 65% of mobile traffic coming from apps, the company’s goal is to drive that number up to 80%. 

Speed in getting its apps to market and in delivering news to its readers online — through browsers and through apps — has been key, Tornblad says. 

“We have had really good luck in the sense that we were pretty much the first in Sweden to have a great news app,” he says, adding that Aftonbladet launched its first app in 2007. “We are very fast in terms of breaking news and news in general. … When we set out, the biggest goal was to be the fastest mobile site in the world. I think when it was launched it definitely was that. It performs very well still compared to other sites.” 

Aftonbladet’s portfolio now consists of six apps. Half are devoted to news and have both smartphone and tablet versions, and half are focused on sports and are available only for smartphones.

Its central news app is by far the biggest in terms of both users and revenue, driving as much as 95% of mobile revenue (although it is difficult to separate out income from the app from that coming from the Web site because the app is a shell presenting the same content and advertising). 

Aftonbladet also has a breaking news app that presents a continuously updated feed of the latest online content, and premium subscribers have access to a digital replica edition of the newspaper. The later user group, however, represents a small fraction of the overall audience, Tornblad says.

The company’s other apps include one general sports app, one focused on ice hockey, and one focused on soccer. 

Aside from the digital replica, all the apps are free to download and use, with much of their content available for free. A limited amount of content is placed behind a paywall and accessible only to subscribers. The same is true of content on all of Aftonbladet’s platforms.

The digital replica is also different in having been developed externally; Aftonbladet’s team of staff developers — which includes about five members, though all of its IT staff also contributes to mobile — crafted all of its other apps.

About 90% of Aftonbladet’s revenue across all channels — mobile, desktop, and print — comes from advertising. Its main app has performed well in terms of return on investment, though the others have smaller niche audiences and have not generated great revenues.

But Aftonbladet measures success for its app by user engagement: frequency of visits, pageviews, number of articles read, and time spent on each. Currently, about 2 million people use the main Aftonbladet news app each day — a sizeable percentage for a nation of 9 million — and the average user opens the app about 1.8 times per day.

Aftonbladet’s emphasis on speed extends to its app design, which is kept simple so pages load as quickly as possible, especially in the top, “above the fold” portion of the front page, where about 90% of users begin.

Aftonbladet allows more complex graphic elements lower on the page, but restricts ads near the top of any page to static images, with no page having so many images that they will slow down the loading.

Most of its in-app advertisements are banner ads, and article pages tend to have more ads than landing pages, where they are thought to be more obtrusive. 

Banner ads are easy to sell, Tornblad says, but he expects they will be replaced by more innovative forms of advertising. News media companies adapted banners from the print experience to the desktop experience to the mobile experience.

With each step, the banner format has been less effective as a way to address readers, especially as companies work to design for even smaller screens, such as those on smartwatches, he says. 

“It’s like two steps away from a good idea. No one really knows if it was a good idea in the start,” he says. “I think we haven’t really figured out yet how to do advertising [on apps] in a good way, but being as big as possible, as high up as possible on the page, it’s not right. It doesn’t feel like it’s going to lead to anything good. … I’d say we need to rethink a bit how we work with the advertising.”

To do that, Aftonbladet is exploring new ways of bringing advertising to its readers, including branded content and native advertising. It is also thinking strategically about what kind of content it should present on smartwatches and how it should present that content. 

“We have had really good luck in the sense that we were pretty much the first in Sweden to have a great news app,” he says, adding that Aftonbladet launched its first app in 2007. “We are very fast in terms of breaking news and news in general. … When we set out, the biggest goal was to be the fastest mobile site in the world. I think when it was launched it definitely was that. It performs very well still compared to other sites.”