Frode Buanes looks to solve the puzzle of media business models

By Paula Felps

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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Editor’s note: In a new, ongoing series, INMA is profiling our most engaged members — our super fans. At a time when we have less face-to-face time, we hope this gives members a chance to learn more about each other. Today we profile Frode Buanes, head of digital publishing at Dagens Næringsliv. 

 As head of digital publishing for Norway’s business daily Dagens Næringsliv, Frode Buanes said his focus over the past couple of years has been on understanding the most viable business models.

“We now know that pay models are the best and most sustainable business models for most media companies. Having paying customers at the center of your strategy, understanding their needs, and tailoring new products to your target groups is crucial,” he said.

“But if you ignore the non-subscribers, you risk ending up with a happy but steadily shrinking pool of subscribers. Getting the right balance between serving our beloved subscribers premium content and having enough free content available so that non-subscribers will visit us and possibly subscribe in the end, has been one of our main puzzles for 2022.”

head of digital publishing at Dagens Næringsliv, Frode Buanes has spent a lot of time looking at digital business models over the past couple of years.
head of digital publishing at Dagens Næringsliv, Frode Buanes has spent a lot of time looking at digital business models over the past couple of years.

Although he specialises in all things digital, when Buanes wants to relax, he turns to a decidedly non-digital interest: crossword puzzles.

“My former boss, Ingeborg Volan, thought it was so sweet that I — as head of digital publishing – just love the old-style, analog crosswords. But I must admit that the crosswords lately have gotten some fierce competition from Wordle and the like.”

INMA recently caught up with Buanes to learn more about what’s on his mind when he isn’t tracking down crossword clues.

INMA: If you had your career to do over again, what would you want to know in the beginning?

Buanes: Many megatrends can be spotted years in advance. Prepare and get skilled for the future.

INMA: What makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning?

Buanes: Cliché, I know, but I really, really love my job and my colleagues. I’ve been among the fortunate who have been able to work mostly from the office during the pandemic. For the last four months, I’ve been acting editor of publishing strategy and visual journalism and have had the great pleasure of learning new things every day and getting to know even more of the wonderful people at Dagens Næringsliv.

INMA: What is the craziest job or project you’ve ever done in media — and what did you learn from it?

Buanes: This needs a bit of Norwegian context. In Norway, a summary of everyone’s personal tax return is made public each year and made available all at once at a given date. I discovered that the credit rating companies got this information months in advance, which meant that if I did a credit rating on some rich people, I’d get their tax returns for the previous year way ahead of the competitors awaiting the official release.

My colleagues and I spent a lot of money ordering credit ratings to get those tax return numbers. What I learned? It’s great fun to beat your rivals when they have no idea how you beat them. And that one should always think if the information you seek could be available in another place than where everyone is looking.

INMA: What success within your company are you most proud of right now?

Buanes: As mentioned above, I’m very concerned with balancing the needs of subscribers and non-subscribers. Last autumn I was part of a team that managed to substantially increase our traffic (and ad revenues) from free articles without taking a hit on traffic from premium articles.

INMA: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Buanes: I think it’s more a repetitive lesson than one big one. It is that being thorough and fair pays off in the long run. Some of my greatest sources have been people I’ve crushed on front pages. Still, they came to me with great leads because they respected me and thought I could find the story within.

INMA: If you hadn’t gone into news media, what was your back-up plan?

Buanes: When I was finishing my master’s thesis in economics, I was about to sign a job contract with the Norwegian Competition Authority. Luckily, the newspaper Bergens Tidende called and offered me a job days before I was about to put my name on the contract.

INMA: What is your favourite thing to read?

Buanes: Twitter. But I wish it wasn’t. It’s a very time-consuming and inefficient way to get updated, as you have to trawl through endless amounts of meaningless Twitter mockery. I should fix my Twitter feed …

INMA: What do you find most challenging/interesting about the news media industry right now?

Buanes: Distribution. It used to be simple; you put your greatest story on your front page, people would see it in the shops and would buy it if they fancied it. Now, the competition for people’s attention is immense. We can’t take it for granted that people will visit us, and we can’t take it for granted that people will notice us in their endless SoMe scrolls. The thought that it is not enough to make brilliant journalism anymore can definitely keep me up at night.

INMA: What are you most excited about for 2022?

Buanes: OK, I’ll be that guy: Spending almost four months of paternity leave with my daughter Iben.

About Paula Felps

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