In the past decade, Norwegian media have undergone a fundamental restructuring of their entire business and organisations. As a result, we are now well ahead in resolving the biggest challenge most of the world's media are contending with: creating sustainable digital business models that can finance quality journalism in the coming years and decades.
Pageviews, reach, and clicks were the default currency in the early years of Internet media. This model was supplemented with shares, likes, and engagement on social platforms when smartphones and Facebook disrupted the market in the early 2000s.
Over the past eight to 10 years, digital subscriptions have become increasingly important. This is partly the result of greater willingness to pay for digital content; the growth of companies like Netflix and Spotify have created new digital habits that have worked to our advantage. It’s also the result of visionary and risk-taking Norwegian media executives who trusted their products and dared to charge for online access to them. And not least, it comes down to fundamental prerequisites like trust in the Norwegian media, extensive Internet coverage, and a digitally literate population.
For most Norwegian media organisations, subscriber loyalty is now a more important metric than pageviews. Aftenposten alone has close to 140,000 digital-only subscribers. In a time when the industry is discussing KPIs, this is a critical point: The change in the business model has been fundamentally healthy for the way in which we develop, evaluate, and discuss journalism.
Aftenposten’s revenue streams have been turned around over the past 10 years. Today, 80% of our revenues come from subscriptions, while the rest comes largely from advertising. How is this affecting our journalism?
Editorial priorities should never be influenced by commercial considerations, but the course of journalism and the business model should ideally pull in the same direction. A newspaper that primarily earns money from advertising will have a journalistic ambition to reach as many users as possible, as often as possible. If loyal subscribers are the goal, however, journalism must also be constructed in a way that gives individual users high value over time.
Journalism must also be developed
For many years now, Aftenposten has been working on developing our journalism in line with changes in the business model. The users who pay for our journalism month after month expect quality, depth, and insightful reporting and analysis. We’re convinced it’s this content that sells and carries our subscription model.
Does Aftenposten always succeed with this? Not at all. But we have taken big steps, and we believe our journalism is getting better and more relevant year by year.
Our international news coverage is supplemented with exclusive reports from the field, such as on-the-ground reports from Syria and Afghanistan, and with analyses and briefs written and timed to give concrete answers to our readers’ questions. We have launched news briefs and summaries of the key stories every day for readers who don’t follow the news minute by minute.
Services help subscribers form their own opinions on political issues and elections, and reviews of TV series are tailored to the wider needs of users with streaming services. Book reviews are published at times when we know people are ready for them. We develop consumer journalism with the same ambition and quality standards as all other journalism in Aftenposten, such as the successful parenting series Foreldreliv.
These are just some examples from recent years of how we have taken user needs seriously and developed journalism that provides value to today’s Aftenposten subscribers. On top of that, of course, comes the most important and pivotal part of our mission: holding the powerful to account with agenda-setting journalism, such as the stories on commuter homes in the Norwegian parliament.
How we work on development
The starting point for our development work has been and will continue to be the same: Our subscribers should know Aftenposten updates them on the most important news stories, and we explain how and why the dots are connected. But how we can best achieve that changes with user habits and expectations. Whereas previously a long text story might provide insight and understanding, a daily podcast may meet that same need for many users today.
The development work we do at Aftenposten generally follows four tracks:
- Our content development focuses on adapting our journalism in step with users’ changing expectations. The core of our journalism stands firm, but it must be designed, formatted, and distributed in ways that are tailored to users’ everyday life and needs. For example, at Aftenposten we have managed to create more structured article formats and news briefs that effectively communicate the most important news stories to avid news readers with little time. We have also brought traditional Aftenposten journalism to large new target groups through podcasts.
- Our product development focuses on developing user experiences that make it possible for this content to be read, seen, or listened to in ways that are as simple, convenient, and frictionless as possible. We want to use sophisticated technology where it can help us fulfill our mission. That’s why we have developed products such as an editorially guided algorithm based on editorial judgment that means more users can find our most important stories.
- Organisational development must support us in enabling our talented people to create the best possible journalism and products. At Aftenposten we increasingly work in interdisciplinary teams where people from different fields of expertise and with different perspectives bring out the best in each other and enable more people to work together on reaching a common goal. At the same time, we must retain the specialist skills that are so vital for creating content of a high standard.
- Business development helps us find new ways of earning money so we can finance all the great journalism we want to provide. Aftenposten arranges events and courses, offering a range of services to more specialised target groups, in addition to continually optimising the distribution and sales of our core product: journalism.
We want these components to build on each other, in a loop, with our journalism as the starting point. The product should support the reach of our journalism, and our organisation should support us in delivering on the goals for our journalism and product development.
Business development should identify opportunities for new revenues in everything we do so we can, in turn, finance our journalism. To truly work insights-driven with all this, the capture and use of relevant data is key.
Standing against the threats
So, have the past 10 years in Aftenposten’s history been one long success story? Absolutely not. There are fewer of us now and making decisions on how best to prioritise our journalistic resources is tougher than it used to be. Our print newspaper remains a good product that is still in demand, but it will continue to decline in the coming years.
The Big Tech companies will continue to challenge our financial performance and our position as a news destination. New players and new shifts will no doubt emerge to test us, and we will have to adapt all over again. We will respond with confidence in what we create and stand for and with the humility to acknowledge that we don’t always have all the answers.
Our fundamental ambition remains the same: to create content and products that strengthen the society and democracy we are part of — and which more and more people use regularly and are willing to pay for.