Oslo Metropolitan University
Swedish audiences are served by a vibrant mix of strong commercial and public service media. Local and national newspapers are amongst the most successful in the world at driving digital subscriptions.
Traditional news business models are under pressure in Sweden, as elsewhere. Most news publishers continue to generate significant revenues, but only after cutting staff and implementing efficiency programmes. The total number of newspaper titles remains relatively consistent, but the cost of distributing each single copy continually increases, compounded by declining print subscribers. These problems are especially critical in less-populated areas, and several news publishers (such as MittMedia) are on the verge of shifting to postal distribution. Prompted by the report of the Media Inquiry in late 2016, the government came up with plans for an increase in subsidies for print newspaper distribution, support for local journalism in ‘news deserts’, as well as support for innovation and development.1 The EU Commission, however, must accept the plans before they can be implemented.
Industry data from IRM Media show that the overall advertising revenues in Sweden increased to 37.7 billion SEK (US $4.5bn), further fuelled by growth in online advertising, especially from social media and online video. Print advertising is in decline. A Nordic-focused report on ad wars shows how digital intermediaries such as Google and Facebook have developed into extremely successful competitors, taking most of the advertising pie from news publishers.2 Importantly, with the declines in print advertising and the rise in use of ad-blockers (32%), many Swedish news publishers nowadays make most of their revenue from direct payments from users. Sweden scores second highest in our survey when it comes to paying for news, with one in four (26%) paying for some form of digital news access in the last year. By the end of 2017 the largest news publisher in Sweden, Aftonbladet, had a quarter of a million paying online news subscribers. Their profit for the full year was 255 million SEK (US $30m), an increase on the previous year. Svenska Dagbladet and the many newspapers run by GOTA Media and MittMedia, have also increased their online subscription base.
Most Swedish news media run their own websites and apps in addition to selecting news for third-party platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. This enables commercial and public service media to reach broader audiences, but at the risk of helping digital intermediaries to build their own businesses by capitalising on the resulting data. Some news publishers get a significant proportion of their digital traffic via intermediaries (e.g. Expressen), whereas other news publishers have deliberately sought to restrict traffic and reduce dependence on third-party platforms (e.g. MittMedia).
Our 2018 survey findings show that mobile news consumption has continued to rise, and is now used by three out of four Swedes. Mobile news remained slightly higher than news access via computers, and much higher than tablets. TV remains the second most used news source, whereas print scores significantly lower. In comparing the reach of these sources and devices for news one should take into account that the time spent accessing the news varies significantly, but also that many Swedes use different news media in a complementary way.
The survey data also provide unique findings into the extent in which Swedes turn to ‘partisan’ and anti-establishment news sites, with four different sites each reaching around one tenth of the Swedish online population on a weekly basis. By comparison, the online news sites of national quality newspapers and public service broadcasters range from 15% to 46%. Kristoffer Holt’s research shows these partisan sites to be mostly positioned on the right wing, presenting themselves as alternatives to the legacy media, who are perceived to censor critical information on issues such as immigration.3
Online and mobile media are the main routes to news in this highly connected country. TV news shows signs of decline, falling 5 percentage points in the last three years while fewer than four in ten (37%) now read a print newspaper at least once a week.
Four out of ten Swedes (41%) express trust in the news in general, with higher scores for the news sources individuals are using themselves. The gap is largest for partisan sites like Fria Tider and Nya Tider where users are almost twice as likely to trust the brand compared to those who have just heard of the brand. Amid continuous discussions on disinformation, it comes as no surprise that only 14% trust news they encounter via social media.