Amedia is the largest local media group in Norway, comprised of 62 local newspapers with a daily readership of more than 60% in its respective core markets. The company is currently experiencing the strongest customer growth of all Norwegian newspapers, particularly related to digital, paid-for content in the local market, according to Pål Nedregotten, Amedia’s executive vice president of innovation.

Nedregotten described the four-year journey that helped turn journalism into a business model at the news media company during INMA’s Local Media Ideas Day on Wednesday.

Pål Nedregotten, executive vice president of innovation at Amedia, XX.
Pål Nedregotten, executive vice president of innovation at Amedia, XX.

The list of top world media companies profiting from paid content are as follows:

  • The New York Times (2.3 million digital subscriptions sold).
  • The Wall Street Journal (1.3 million digital subscriptions sold).
  • The Washington Post (just crossed one million digital subscriptions sold).
  • Los Angeles Times (105,000 digital subscriptions sold).

Nedregotten said not many people know that Norwegian Amedia, with its 151,500 digital subscriptions, is among the top performers.

In 2013, Amedia was experiencing a 20% digital ad growth year over year. But today, reach alone is insufficient. Digital ad income is unable to finance local journalism as we know it.

The plan to adjust to a changing landscape was simple and based on two key moves, which were easier said than done, Nedregotten said:

  1. Conversion: This would involve converting 480,000 paying print subscribers into digital customers, building digital habits, creating a future bulwark against reduction in print frequency, and reducing churn.
  2. Growth: This would involve sales to new, digital-only subscribers, and reaching new digital reader audiences. At that time, it was more hope than anything else.

Amedia decided to put a subscription layer on its content. Between 40% and 60% of all articles are for subscribers only; the rest are open.

As of September 2017, Amedia has 566,733 registered customers (14% of all Norwegians older than 15 years), and Amedia does not own newspapers in the main regions of Norway.

Nedregotten shared some numbers Amedia is really proud of: On the country’s election evening (September 12), it had 334,000 logged people at the same time, and the highest reach for the weekend was 460,000 users.

“Focus on the reader, focus on the customer, and the advertising will follow,” Nedregotten said. And again, a look at the numbers shows that it is important to look at the difference between users and subscribers:

  • 501,000 was the record high number of subscribers (on September 15).
  • 650 subscriptions are sold every 24 hours.
  • 150,000 pure digital subscriptions; the rest are full digital offer subscribers plus print delivery.
  • 53 newspapers with subscription growth year-over-year (out of 62).

Setting the right price required a lot of trial and error. Amedia noticed that with high value comes a high willingness to pay. Nobody believed Amedia could charge more for subscriptions than Netflix or Spotify. But it does: The company charges €16-€25 per month.

Amedia’s strategy is turning into real money that can sustain local journalism. Subscription sales are a vital part of it: 87% of all subscription sales are done via the online edition. Digital subscribers are also much younger than print ones (47% of them are younger than 50). In addition, 64% of all the customers are new.

Amedia puts a lot of effort into editorial and readership analysis. It turned out it produced a lot of articles for subscribers that subscribers did not actually want to read. Some of the articles had high readership and low volume, and others had high volume and low readership. So, as a starting point, Amedia chose to produce the right journalism.

It also became critical to establish readers’ habits early, as it noticed that high digital reading has a clear correlation with subscription sales.

Milestones reached by Amedia prove its strategy is right: Finnmark Dagblad newspaper began to have more digital than print subscribers. Vestby Avis was the first newspaper to break even on subscription-based revenue only. And in 2016, it delivered a €46 million bottom line; now the company is debt free.