Aftonbladet uses innovation, courage to prepare for future of journalism

By Lena Samuelsson


Stockholm, Sweden


One of the strongest instincts for an evening newspaper is to win. It has always been that way. We constantly want to be better, break the hottest stories, push for the most engaging issues, do the best business deals, and show most traffic.

Such is our nature. But there is one more important battle: the battle for the future of journalism.

Aftonbladet diversifies itself across a number of platforms and channels, setting it up for success in the future.
Aftonbladet diversifies itself across a number of platforms and channels, setting it up for success in the future.

A strong and independent press also needs business models that are sustainable in the long run. In this respect, Aftonbladet’s position is uniquely strong with digital revenues far above others in our business. But we too have a bit more to go.

The world no longer looks as it did in the 1990s when it was easy to compare one newspaper to another. Today, Aftonbladet is a far-reaching digital business and is a part of Sweden’s most powerful digital eco-system, Schibsted, together with Blocket, SvD, and Prisjakt, among others.

Together we are reaching, online on a single day, four million Swedes between the ages of 16 and 80 years old. If you look at a single week, we are reaching 6.3 million people together. That is the force making us the leader in the Swedish market. Together we are developing our brands and products in a digitalised world.

Today, Aftonbladet has a number of digital channels and is putting substantial effort into television. As we re-adjust from desktop to mobile, apps, and so on, the different channels affect each other. That is why today we choose the measurement of total daily reach (i.e. how many people are encountering our journalism every day). That is the number best reflecting our strength in relation to readers and advertisers.

In later years, that measurement has been circling around 3.5 million individuals, including the printed newspaper. It is from this strong position we are developing Aftonbladet for our readers, viewers, and advertisers.

It is important to show strong figures, and Aftonbladet has had a leading position in the digital market for many years.

When it comes to news and sports, Aftonbladet is the primary choice for the Swedish people. That is a position we have had the privilege to build on for years. This is particularly evident when there are big news stories, such the terror attack in Stockholm last year. In those moments, a large proportion of Swedes chose Aftonbladet as their news source.

We are also noticing a strong interest in our investigative reporting and in engaging news. For example, when the immensely popular artist Lill-Babs passed away recently. And, of course, during big sporting events such as the Olympic Games when Sportbladet was a great success.

Some time ago there was a media survey, Ungdomsbarometern, that showed 42% of people ages 15-24 and 43% of adults ages 25-49 say Aftonbladet is among the media outlets playing an important role when gathering news. We are proud of that. The Swedish Television is right behind, with 39% and 42% respectively. After that, the numbers are falling. Channel 4 TV is in third place followed by Swedish Radio, local news media, Dagens Nyheter, and Expressen.

News is in our heart, but an evening newspaper is also a mix of topics. Our responsibility is also to deliver good journalism in areas such as travel, food and wine, properties, interior decoration, and health as well as classical service journalism such as TV guides, private economy, and weather.

We will become stronger still in these fields. It is journalism that is inspiring and guiding — a classic task for Aftonbladet. We are now launching new initiatives in order to give our readers a more fulfilling experience and our advertisers new, exciting contexts.

So, how do you gauge success? Visitors per day, per week, or per month? Each channel separately or together? Digital, television, and/or a printed newspaper’s unique users, viewers, or individuals?

For a long time, Aftonbladet chose to measure all our unique readers and users per day in all channels. Others choose other ways. And, of course, we in the evening press prefer to choose the method that makes us greatest.

Our old competitor, Expressen, has been clever in building its digital traffic over the past years and telling people about it. It is a good thing for the future of more journalism that more newspapers are building a stronger digital position.

Swedish media houses need to gather strength and develop efficient digital offers both for readers and advertisers. That is the only way we can safeguard the Swedish press business as a credible alternative to the big American platform companies such as Facebook and Google — companies that are not bothered with the survival of Swedish newspapers, in spite of what they claim.

At the end of the day, this is about democracy. Should news production be run according to the Swedish tradition of a free press and freedom of speech, or should it be the object of arbitrary algorithms operated from Silicon Valley? Are we to accept Google and Facebook not taking any responsibility when hate and threats are spread? Is there still space for the difficult and the complicated, for topics that do not attract likes? For matters that are simply just important? For you? For us all?

When Ungdomsbarometern asks young people what brands they are confronted with during a normal day, Aftonbladet is there on the top-10 list as the only Swedish news source. Beyond that, the list is dominated by foreign players (such as Facebook, Google, YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram). All of these were founded within the last 15 years and are using the mobile phone as the primary platform, largely built on user-created content, and half-owned by either Google or Facebook.

For Aftonbladet (founded in 1830), it is encouraging to see our position is so strong among the young. That is decisive for the future.

But in this lies a much bigger question: How do we create the prerequisites for tomorrow’s journalism?

One answer is innovation and courage. The successful news service Omni, for example, was born within Aftonbladet. Here was the courage to challenge one self and others. The successful pink Sportbladet was, at its time, a true innovation. The investment from our media house Schibsted in new digital consumer services and entrepreneurs once emerged from a group at Aftonbladet that dared.

We have a tradition of throwing ourselves with great curiosity at things. In a digital reality, many old truths turn obsolete. The ideas and the competition are new. No one knows what is waiting around the corner, but we love being on the lookout and testing.

However, in this new world, traffic and position are not enough. It is about building a model for the long run that can carry journalism into the future. Here, Aftonbladet is in the lead both when it comes to ads and digital subscriptions. Our digital revenues are considerably larger than those of any other traditional media house. That is something we have been building for many years, and which now is giving us strength as we move into the future.

We are also leaders in Sweden in the field of digital subscriptions, with more than a quarter-million readers who choose our in-depth and wide offers. Plus, we also have a unique position among the world’s media companies.

As always, the future is about doing a good job for our readers, viewers, and customers. Journalism is first and last at Aftonbladet. But it is also about re-adjusting the business.

That challenge is facing all media companies. There is much work left to do, and we are pursuing it with full vigor. But Aftonbladet is much better prepared than most. We have a strong position as the Swedish people’s first choice of news, and we have developed the digital business models that are needed — in whatever way you choose to measure.

About Lena Samuelsson

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