Swedish Newspaper Industry Moves Quickly on Web Publishing

By: Steve Outing

Some 50 newspapers in Sweden today are operating World Wide Web services, up from about 15 one year ago. In this affluent Scandinavian country, where pocket phones are ubiquitous and new technology is quickly embraced, the Internet is hot stuff among Swedish publishers -- even if, like the rest of the world's publishing executives, they haven't figured out yet how to make the Internet profitable.

I had the opportunity to learn more about the Swedish Internet publishing scene last week, when I gave a presentation to Tidningsutgivarna (the Swedish Newspaper Publishers Association) at its Information Technology conference held just outside Stockholm. More than 100 newspaper editors, publishers, managing directors and new media personnel attended this 2-day meeting, organized by the association's IT committee and Tidningsutgivarna technical manager Niklas Jonason.

Jonason says of the 50 newspapers currently online, about 35 are doing something substantial; the balance typically contain only promotional material about the newspaper or information on advertising or subscriptions. Ten papers truly take their Internet publishing operations seriously, Jonason says, with the largest newspaper new media staffs employing four or five people.

Aftonbladet led the way

The oldest Swedish newspaper on the Internet is Aftonbladet, a Stockholm daily which launched a Web site in August 1994. Today, Aftonbladet's site is one of the most ambitious in Swedish newspaper circles, and is acknowledged as one of the better sites; it's won several regional awards for best Web service. Previously an independent paper, Aftonbladet last week sold a 49.9% share to Norway's Schipted media group, which owns Verldens Gang and Aftenposten in Oslo (both those papers have substantial Web sites) and an Internet access provider.

Aftonbladet project editor for electronic media Bo Hedin guides a staff of four and is doing a lot of experimenting to figure out what people want to see on an online newspaper service. The site offers 24-hour updated news, and often publishes news background material to supplement what's found in the print edition. One of Hedin's most popular trials has been a contest, where Web readers had an opportunity to win prizes by playing an online game. That experiment, conducted just recently, sent hit counts on the server "through the roof," Hedin says -- so much so, in fact, that the traffic nearly brought the server down and disabled the tracking mechanism that counts visitors to different parts of the site.

Aftonbladet also hosts on its site a live chat service, which Hedin says has proven to be very popular. Interestingly, Swedish people from around the world use the paper's chat service to stay in touch. However, because of the time zone difference, European Swedes tend to talk to each other -- typically in the evening hours -- and Swedes living in the United States tend to chat with each other. Hedin says three Swedish students spread out in different U.S. cities recently met in Aftonbladet's chat area and continued communicating with each other -- brought together by the newspaper. And, of course, the site in general gets a significant amount of traffic from Swedish people living abroad.

The Aftonbladet site has been successful in attracting advertisers, and Hedin projects that the service will be profitable by next year.

Other papers online

The largest newspaper in Stockholm, Expressen, also has a Web site, noted for its 3-5 p.m. Friday live chat sessions featuring celebrity guests such as rock music stars.

Three of the country's largest morning papers, Dagens Nyheter, Goteborgs-Posten and Sydsvenska Dagbladet, have created a free-access searchable classified ads site which was the first to use an automatic link between an Oracle database with an SQL interface to create HTML pages on the fly. The three papers each have different classified ad systems.

Jonason says many of the regional capitals have newspapers publishing on the Web, though their efforts remain modest. Some of these newspapers -- all outside Stockholm -- are part of Scandinavia Today, a project of Stockholm-based RiksMedia AB, which sells co-op ads for the Web sites and hosts their content online.

Some smaller papers are getting into the Internet act as well, some publishing tourist guides online for their communities or regions. One small paper in the cold northern part of Sweden has created an English-language fishing and golfing information Web site, for example. (In the far north, you can fish and golf 24 hours a day during the Arctic summer.)

Newspaper publishers here are not flocking to become Internet service providers (ISPs), as is the case in the U.S., although one small newspaper in northern Sweden has become an ISP and has attracted about 500 paying subscribers. Some Swedish papers do work together with the PTT (telecommunications company) to create Internet services in the name of the newspaper; the telco organizes the service and the publisher gets a commission on accounts sold.

Another small newspaper in the south, Hallandsposten in Halmstad, is making money with its Internet operation by contracting with the town council to host the town's official Web site. Hallandsposten produces the pages, does the layout, and hosts the information on its server; the town council does the writing and the newspaper merely provides and is paid for use of the online publishing medium, says chief editor Sverker Emanuelsson.

Authors' rights issue

Jonason points out that in Sweden, the authors of journalistic works have full rights to their words. In the Internet publishing realm, the first agreement has been worked out between Tidningsutgivarna and the journalists' union at one large and one small newspaper to allow the papers to publish works online without payments to the authors through June 1997. The agreement instead stipulates that during this trial period for Internet publishing, money will be earmarked for training journalists in interactive publishing. This agreement is now likely to spread to other newspapers, Jonason says.

It's interesting to note, too, that Swedish newspaper publishers most often find employees from within their existing staffs, rather than go outside looking for talent to run a Web site. (Some of the editors I met indicated that publishing companies are loathe to create new positions to staff new media departments, since it is not as acceptable to eliminate jobs if the project goes sour as it might be in, say, the United States).

The competition

Just like anywhere else, Swedish newspaper publishers have to worry about competition that threatens to chip away at their franchises via the online medium. At this conference, representatives of the Swedish Post Office's Postnet electronic business subsidiary presented plans for its online service called Torget (or "Market"), a mega-marketplace Web site that is due to "soft launch" on May 6. This is a significant project, run by a state agency that is putting 100 million Swedish Crowns and 60 employees into the venture. Postnet representatives want newspapers to take part, but the publishers at this meeting were noticably cool to the idea.

The major Swedish telecommunications company, PTT, also has a similar project under development. (It can be found at http://www.passagen.se).

Swedish newspapers appear for the most part to be going it alone on the Internet, or occasionally joining forces in Web ventures like Scandinavia Today. Jonason says that more groups of Swedish newspapers will get together in similar joint strategies in the near future, in an effort to compete with other cyberspace entities that threaten to chip away at publishers' long-held but vulnerable franchises -- such as classified advertising.

Swedish newspapers online list

To view all 50 Swedish newspapers online, visit the Tidningsutgivarna home page and click on "svenska tidningar."

Contacts: Niklas Jonason, nj@ttn.tu.se
Bo Hedin, bo.hedin@aftonbladet.se
Sverker Emanuelsson, sverker.emanuelsson@hallandsposten.se

ON Wisconsin moves to the Web

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Wisconsin, USA) officially moves its ON Wisconsin online service to the World Wide Web today. ON Wisconsin had been a premium service on the Prodigy network until one month ago, when it was killed after attracting only about 1,000 subscribers. The new Web service will be supported primarily by advertising. The site can be found at http://www.onwis.com/. The Journal-Sentinel previously operated a football specialty Web site called PackersPlus while ON Wisconsin was still on Prodigy.

NAA convention coverage

Editor & Publisher's correspondents have been covering the Newspaper Association of America conference in New York this week. You can find selected summaries of conference speeches and events at this Web page on E&P Interactive.

Movin' On

Sandi Daine is now responsible for building a Web site for The Missoulian, a Lee newspaper in western Montana. She formerly was news editor at the Norwich Bulletin in Connecticut. The Missoulian site currently features extensive coverage of the Unabomber suspect's recent arrest, as well as news of a major toxic chemical spill in Montana.

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