Dagbladet sees value in its free site, doesn’t go “all in” on a paywall model

By Alexandra Beverfjord

Dagbladet

Oslo, Norway

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In recent years, an increasing number of newspapers all over the world have chosen to put content behind payment walls. This has been important for building stable and good incomes. However, the consequences for many have also been the loss of a digital free-site position. In turn, this has reduced both the reach of their journalism, and the newspapers’ advertising revenues.

Scandinavia is among the areas in the world with the highest willingness to pay for news. But not all media go “all in” on this solution.

In many ways, Dagbladet, a 153-year-old newspaper, has chosen the opposite strategy. Where other newspapers have prioritised digital subscriptions, Dagbladet has attempted to grow both its free site and digital subscribers. We are growing our free site by focusing on news journalism, breaking news, and investigative journalism. In addition, the newspaper offers sports, entertainment, and other popular journalism.

While many publications are putting content behind a paywall, Dagbladet sees value in giving readers free access to high-quality journalism.
While many publications are putting content behind a paywall, Dagbladet sees value in giving readers free access to high-quality journalism.

This strategy was the reason the media company was able to present a strong result this year. Despite declining newspaper circulation, Dagbladet delivered revenue growth from the previous year. The profit was a record US$11.4 million, which gave the company an operating margin of 17%. More than 70% of the newspaper’s revenues are now digital.

98% growth

Norway is a small country with 5.3 million inhabitants. Of these, 1.3 million read Dagbladet every day, and 2.2 million Norwegians use Dagbladet every week. Over the last four years, the number of pageviews has increased by 98%. The newspaper currently has around 15 million pageviews every day.

Dagbladet has also 80,000 pure digital subscribers. The newspaper works with digital user payment to diversify our revenue streams based on available business models. This is important for the future when the print edition will one day be closed down.

Big Tech competition

Large tech players are taking an increasing share of advertising revenue. In 2020, newspaper companies and commercial broadcasters in Norway sold advertising for about US$860 million. Since 2010, advertising revenues have been reduced by US$408 million, corresponding to 32.4%.

Dagbladet wants to continue competing for this income. To be competitive, we depend on growth. Developments in recent years have shown it is possible to increase advertising revenues, despite this competition.

After the regulations over the last several years, we see that publishers with strong content and presence in the market strengthens the relationship with advertisers and provides a safe environment for their ads. We know the level of investment is still significant. We, as publishers, need to prove we can deliver on an advertiser’s KPI.

The importance of free sites

Investing too heavily in digital user payments seems to alter the content mix of some newspapers. They spend few resources covering the big, ongoing news stories and more resources on analysis, lifestyle, and consumer journalism.

At Dagbladet, the news position is the most important. News is the heart of everything we do. We should always be able to answer this reader question: Has anything happened?

Reach is important for Dagbladet, both publicly and commercially. Large reach gives journalism a greater impact. It means the newspaper can surface smaller and narrower issues for a wider audience.

A larger reach also increases advertising revenue, and it contributes to increased distribution of user paid content and Web TV.

Will the pendulum swing?

Some media are now reporting they are experiencing a flattening in the growth of digital subscriptions. Along the way, several have given up both a large number of free readers and advertising revenue.

The question is whether more media companies, in the near future, will try to work out a better balance between paid content and free-site content.

About Alexandra Beverfjord

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