If your media house has been fortunate enough to grow to more than 20 dominant news brands over 180 years, you too may have the freedom to implement many different reader revenue strategies in different situations rather than having to go all in on just one.

Oslo-based Schibsted is in that enviable position, which allowed its senior vice president for consumer products, Tor Jacobsen, to share a wide range of insights with 110 of his colleagues at the opening Wednesday of INMA’s Local Reader Revenue Symposium in Hamburg.

But Jacobsen also sounded like a man unprepared to take his company’s current success for granted.

Tor Jacobsen, vice president for consumer products, outlines the product elements of Schibsted's reader revenue strategy.
Tor Jacobsen, vice president for consumer products, outlines the product elements of Schibsted's reader revenue strategy.

“We think that we have a good starting point because we have many, many brands and we have a good customer base,” he said. “What’s important is that our brands are really different. We’re not always doing the same testing across the brands.”

The good start that set up Schibsted’s current push for achieving €101 million (their actual goal is a big, round 1 billion Norwegian krone) in reader-sourced revenue by 2020 was the company’s unexpected success in already reaching half that in 2017.

Jacobsen revealed Wednesday that Schibsted is currently ahead of track for reaching its more expansive milestone. At the same time, he showed a graph of digital subscriber growth and noted its slightly flattening curve.

“Norway and Sweden are very attractive markets for people paying for news,” he said. “For the last five years, it’s going one direction — up. In the last year, though, you can see it’s going a little different, but still increasing.

“I think it’s been a very interesting journey on the reader revenue side. The question is: Where will the growth come from in the next years? We still think the market will be struck by higher volumes. But to stay on the higher curve instead of the lower one, we think it needs a shift in focus now from volume to value.

“So we believe there will be basically three main drivers for the market going forward: The first one is strengthening our existing products, to make people like our products more, to stay more. Then there is exploring pricing and packaging to create the best offers for our customers; I think it’s really important to balance this act. And the third one is generating new subscription revenues from increasing digital readers.”

Toward those ends, Jacobsen went on to spotlight some of the efforts being undertaken at various of Schibsted’s titles:

  • Verdens Gang, better known as simply VG, the most read online newspaper in Norway with about 2 million daily readers, now provides an exclusive destination on the front page of its app and Web site for subscribers only. This new experience is in addition to the already exclusive content those paying readers have long received. Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet is similarly giving logged-in subscribers their own special environment and experience.

  • Schibsted sport and entertainment publishers are starting to experiment with buying live rights to stream various matches and performances such as the Oscars. “The problem with live rights is that it’s really expensive, but we have some options like training matches,” Jacobsen said.

  • Another thing is the growing market for podcasts, which Schibsted has been actively producing but struggling to monetise. “We cannot really capitalise on it because it’s on iTunes, it’s on Spotify, it’s not really on our platforms,” Jacobsen said. “The user is moving there but not the money. So starting next year we will move all our podcasts in our own apps and sites.”

  • Onboarding Buddy is a new personalised, interactive online experience for guiding new subscribers through the process of setting up their account and access. Customers can select which writer or editor guides them through the experience with videos and messages.

Schibsted is also exploring, experimenting, or already implementing dynamic paywalls, e-commerce payments, corporate subscriptions and other B2B (rather than just B2C) offerings, market-based pricing using real-time input on individual price sensitivity, new digital up-sale news and information products, and ancillary content apps similar to The New York Times’ branch into dedicated crossword and recipe subscriptions.