University of Gothenburg
Quality newspapers and public service broadcasters have long played a key role in the Swedish news ecology, but they now face increased competition in a digital landscape marked by increased use of mobile and social media.
Public service broadcasters SVT (TV) and SR (radio) publish news with both local/regional and national focus, and enjoy a broad reach for news (alongside commercial broadcaster TV4). SVT and SR also publish their news through websites and apps, and enable distribution via non-proprietary platforms in social media. They justify their investments in, and initiatives for, digital media as a way of providing the widest possible access to their public service (news) content, but are repeatedly criticised for doing this by members of the Swedish Media Publishers’ Association.
Importantly, the Swedish newspaper industry, once financially strong and successful, is under increasing pressure. Amid substantial disruption to business models and widespread concerns about the future of journalism, the Swedish government held a rigorous governmental inquiry in 2015. This so-called Media Inquiry assessed the tensions between commercial news publishers and public service broadcasters, as well as the growing influence of international giants such as Facebook and Google. The final report was published in November 2016, and contains analyses of the Swedish media landscape with suggestions for future media policy, most importantly new criteria for future subsidies to commercial news media in the digital age.1
In 2016 the circulation for most quality newspapers in print continued to fall. Our survey findings similarly report declines in print readership. Four in ten (37%) read print newspapers and one in four regularly read a local or regional newspaper. The use of computers for online news has fallen to 55%, whereas mobile news consumption remains stable at 69%, on a similar level to television news watching. Sweden thus maintains its position as a country with one of the highest levels of mobile news consumption in our survey. Swedish news publishers invested relatively early in mobile news apps and mobile optimised websites.
Overall print advertising revenues in 2016 were 4.5bn SEK (US$0.5bn), down 16% in two years. At the same time the overall advertising revenues have increased 9% in the past two years (from 32 to 34.9bn SEK), mostly driven by a 45% increase in online and mobile advertising (from 10.8 to 15.7bn SEK).2 Similar to the previous year, 26% reported using an ad-blocker, which continues to eat into news media advertising revenues.
Payments for content constitute an important revenue stream for news media companies, but newspaper publishers have long hesitated, and/or struggled, when it comes to charging for online news content. In the last couple of years more Swedish newspapers have started selling subscriptions for e-paper versions, as well as implementing some form of paywall. Typically, paywalls apply only to a selection of unique or ‘premium’ content, although some charge for all online news material. In 2017, as in 2016, one in five Swedes say they pay for online news. While this number is far lower than what news publishers need, it still puts Sweden at the top end (fourth out of 36) of international comparisons.
Bonnier (Dagens Nyheter and Expressen) and Schibsted (Aftonbladet and Svenska Dagbladet) remain the two largest newspaper groups, and continue to report significant profits. There are many other profitable newspaper companies, but there are also several struggling financially. The third largest newspaper group, the Stampen Media Group (Göteborgs-Posten and more), was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2016 after seeing a turnaround in its reported financials, from a big loss in 2014, to a modest profit in 2015. During the first half of 2016 the company had difficulties paying wages, but by the end of the year a rescue plan had taken shape, involving new investors, new agreements with banks and the Swedish tax authority. Ultimately Stampen Media Group reported a modest profit for 2016, but critics have questioned their financial accounting.
Around four in ten (42%) of Swedes express an overall trust in news, but the figure is lower amongst the young and those who are less interested in news. Amid intensified discussions on the prevalence of fake news, there is concern about so-called news avoiders and also right-wing sympathisers deserting news media in favour of so-called alternative media.