Bonnier News: Bucking the trend in publishing

26 Nov 2020

Bonnier News: Bucking the trend in publishing

While publishing struggles during the coronavirus crisis, Sweden’s Bonnier News’ digital strategy is paying off for the company with remarkable results.

As with many traditional industries today, print media is struggling to compete in a world that increasingly favours digital channels for news and information. Publishers worldwide have been forced to make difficult decisions to offset declining print revenues, often leading to them closing publications and letting staff go.

There is an exception, however. When faced with declining print revenues, Swedish media group Bonnier News implemented a digital strategy that has helped the company generate record profits while massively expanding its readership.

With CEO Anders Eriksson at the helm, the company has shifted from 90 percent revenues from print, to most revenues coming from new, primarily digital sources. Additionally, its flagship morning newspaper, Dagens Nyheter this year posted its best financial year this century, which the firm attributes to evolving the newspaper’s digital platform.

The transformation saw a huge increase in its digital subscriber base – from 50,000 in 2016 to today’s total of 1.2 million. This model is more profitable too; margins are higher thanks to using digitised processes and eliminating the operating costs associated with print.

Eriksson says Bonnier News implemented its transformation on three levels: “One is the digital transformation across our business and the way we operate, how we sell and how we manage customers and obviously our products. Another is the business model transformation from being advertising-based, transforming into a more subscription-based business. And the third one was quite a big cultural shift.”

While it is often easy to focus on the digital or business transformation, it is this cultural shift where Eriksson’s leadership is evident.

Leadership philosophy

Prior to the CEO role, Eriksson had been with Bonnier for seven years – but his background is in technology, working with digital businesses, including as European head for Razorfish. Describing his leadership philosophy, Eriksson emphasises the ideals of values, culture and engagement. He says he is on a mission to encourage employees to “deliver as much value as they can contribute.”

“It’s my responsibility as a manager to make sure they get the opportunity to make a difference,” he said. “We want to create an environment where employees are motivated to contribute to their maximum potential.”

At the heart of his vision, however, is integrity – which he believes is particularly important in the media: “We are investigating others, and we need to make sure our decision-making can allow for scrutiny as well. We need to have high standards ourselves,” he said.

Eriksson believes it is important that internal stakeholders, employees, managers, customers and readers can hold decision-makers to account. To enable this, the company must be transparent in its actions – another key focus for Eriksson.

“It’s both transparency and openness; not hiding things but rather creating a culture of sharing. That has been the most important change in this transformation, from a cultural standpoint,” he said.

This was apparent in the company’s plans for greater integration between traditionally disparate teams and departments.

“We used to have a model where all our brands and departments were operating in silos,” says Eriksson. “You have editorial, advertising sales, subscription sales. So, to make this work we had to open up all these silos and create a collaborative, transparent culture and environment.

“You need to find a balance where journalistic independence is never at stake. But at the same time, we cannot have walls, because then it won’t work in the digitally transformed environment.”

In terms of knocking down those silos, Eriksson has led from the front, making himself available to others and working more closely alongside his colleagues. “I wanted to reduce the distance; I wanted to sort of create a different environment and atmosphere,” he said.

Accelerated transformation

Like the rest of the world, the coronavirus pandemic changed everything for Bonnier News in 2020. After an initial slowing down in its transformation plans, the company bounced back by implementing “two or three years of transformation in two three months”.

“We saw a huge increase in our subscription base, and because of the revenue on the advertising side dropped quite steeply and quickly, we had to take measures to get cost out of our mature print cost base.

"I think we accelerated the whole transformation quite a bit. It’s been challenging, but it’s actually helped us to increase the speed of transformation,” says Eriksson.

Moving forward, the CEO says he expects Bonnier News to continue to leverage technology to improve the user experience for its readers.
“Our strategy going forward is that we want to reach more people. We have 1.8 million subscribers now, we want to get to two million, to two and a half, and three million. And we want them to consume more of our journalism.

“Of course, not everyone is interested in everything. But we have so much to offer. A big focus will also be on innovating more in terms of how we deliver of our brands’ content to our readers. We’ll keep investing in our brands and our readers.”