Bonnier experiments with less print, more digital focus on smaller titles

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Welcome to the latest Newsroom Initiative newsletter.

Here’s a second installment of a series on cutting editions and potentially abandoning print publishing — not just because of costs that have, of course, exploded, but because it makes sense based on long-term planning and thinking about audience needs.

In this case, it’s the Baltic and Slovenia operations of the Swedish publishing house Bonnier. We hear from Bonnier leaders in the newsroom and the business about the long-term planning, the push that the coronavirus pandemic gave to the plan, and how audiences have responded.

As with the earlier look at how Alabama Media Group closed four of its print titles after carefully analysing long-term profitability and popularity, the interviews with Bonnier show its decision to reduce editions was taken with care and not just driven by the explosion of print costs. That may be a lesson for other publishers having to react without having done the strategy work.

You’ll also find my recommended follow.

Bonnier uses its Baltic newspapers to learn how to trim costly print editions

The COVID pandemic gave Bonnier critical impetus in a long-prepared strategy to reduce the frequency of its print editions in Estonia and Lithuania and now in Slovenia, a shift it has now cemented with a much-reduced print offering and a strong digital-first mentality.

Estonia and Lithuania offered the Swedish publisher a way to run experiments on editions and associated changes to newsrooms that may be harder to do in its larger titles. The company has gained valuable insight into audience response to fewer print editions and what it takes to achieve those changes in a way that protects revenue and allows newsrooms to adjust.

In the early days of the pandemic, Estonian business title Äripäev reduced its print product from five days a week to one.
In the early days of the pandemic, Estonian business title Äripäev reduced its print product from five days a week to one.

“Until the corona, we used to publish the paper five times per week. But right at the start of the pandemic, it was April 2020, we reduced the appearance of the paper to one day per week,” Meelis Mandel, editor-in-chief of the Estonian business title Äripäev, told me. “It was just obvious at the time. We knew we had to cut the paper sooner or later, so why don’t we just use the corona because everybody was just sitting at home and their offices were empty.”

The Estonian newspaper had long abandoned any specific print team and gone all-in on digital publishing. It also made no real differentiation between a newsprint and digital subscription, making it easier to convince readers they were still getting the same value. Since January, Äripäev is digital-only but with monthly magazines on themes like rich lists and tax planning.

“Weve been preparing years ahead. It wasnt like an instant decision and we just did it,” Jure Gostisa, head of data and analytics at Bonnier B2B, said of the decision taken in the first months of the pandemic. “We took many, many decisions that maybe in the short term even impacted our business at the time because we were pushing digital versus print… . We always knew that our direction will be daily-to-weekly-to-digital-only. We were not putting pressure on ourselves when this will happen. We never had a timeline … at one point Excel will tell you when is the time.”

Äripäev’s Lithuanian Bonnier stablemate Verslo Zinios still does one weekly newsprint edition, on a Friday, and its content is more curated and magazine-style. Their Slovenian business newspaper Finance has told its readers it will move to digital-plus-one-weekly-paper next January. Bonnier B2B’s Polish newspaper Puls Biznesu still prints five days a week.

“The logic is the same,” said Gostisa. “When we feel that the time is right, we’ll start reducing the frequency. We are still not there (in Poland). The same goes for Borsen (Denmark) and probably all other titles that we have. It’s important to note that the decision should and will always be made by local teams.”

How did the newsrooms adapt?

Mandel says the Estonian title had long before the pandemic adopted a North Star metric that was easily sold to staff and gave them a sense of ambition rather than the sense that they were in any kind of embattled position.

“We had a strategy we created just before corona, our North Star is to become the most-subscribed business news media in the world per capita,” Mandel said. He reckons Finnish business title Kauppalehti is leading on that metric but that inside the Bonnier group, Äripäev may be there.

“Right now we have a bit more than 18,000 subscribers, which is quite good because our population is 1.3 million. Our aim is to increase the number of subscribers to 25,000. That should be very, very motivating for editorial,” Mandel said. Only about 4,000 of those subscribers had taken print editions rather than opt for a solely digital choice.

Äripäev’s North Star is to become the most-subscribed business news product in the world per capita.
Äripäev’s North Star is to become the most-subscribed business news product in the world per capita.

The transition has been helped by the strong revenue from readers, three times that from advertising, according to Mandel. Subscriptions dipped by about 3% in December, he says, but are starting to increase again in the first months of the year.

Gustisa says a critical learning from the Lithuanian experience was that the shift to weekly initially generated high churn among subscribers, which required a fast redesign of the print title to offer what appeared to be a more considered once-a-week read. 

That focus on subscribers means the newsroom’s primary metrics are all about subscribers rather than traffic.

“I think the most important thing was that for the past two or three years, we followed very accurately, different KPIs. Our journalists are very aware of how many subscribers we have and what they read,” Mandel said. “Its so important. We dont follow any traffic anymore. We only look at how our subscriber is acting. It’s the most important thing.”

Mandel says the newsroom has readily taken the time it might have previously put into newspaper production into more investigative reporting and digital presentation. The routine process is not real-time coverage of financial markets but to ensure there are at least five strong stories a day on the site with a three-hour or so cadence through the day. The most popular stories tend to be stock market stories, useful to small investors.

Bonnier turned to the Financial Times consulting arm for advice in 2018, and Mandel and Gostisa say that helped prepare the ground for the changes to editions and the focus on subscribers over advertising, lessons that still drive the business today.

Gostisa is adamant that reducing editions was long planned and based on fundamental shifts in audience behaviour, advertising demands, and market opportunities rather than just a reaction to the dramatic rises in newsprint and printing and distribution costs in recent years.

“We have prepared our market and our customers. For 10 years one of our main KPIs was digitally engaging print readers, so we were systematically pushing print readers to really use the bundle — not just saying that they have a bundle but to really use it,” Gostisa said, adding the company also priced the digital and print the same.

In Slovenia, the company notified users of its transition to digital-only and put in huge effort with subscribers to transition them to the digital experience with 20% of subscribers still yet to convert to the digital product, which will dominate from the end of this year.

“In all markets, we are actually really growing,” Gostisa said. “Subscription revenues have been growing. We have a target of 10% growth per year, and we are matching or over-matching that for years. So, there were basically zero negative impacts on circulation revenue.”

Webinar: Bonnier shares lessons of going digital-first

Meelis Mandel, editor-in-chief of the Estonian business title Äripäev, and Jure Gostisa, head of data and analytics at Bonnier B2B, are the guests in the next Newsroom Initiative Webinar: Lessons on Going Digital-First with Bonnier on April 5. Register here. 

Recommended follow

Sewell Chan @sewellchan is the editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune, one of the most successful non-profit journalism outfits in the United States and something of a model for others. Chan was formerly with the Los Angeles Times and is a good source on what the TT is up to.

Talk back

Tell me what you want to read and what you like or don't like in this newsletter please. E-mail: There’s also an INMA Newsroom Initiative Slack channel.

About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Peter Bale, based in New Zealand and the U.K. and lead for the INMA Newsletter Initiative. Peter will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global newsrooms.

This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Peter at or with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.


About Peter Bale

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