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Sweden

Sweden

Population: 10 million
Internet penetration: 96%

Amid continued falls in revenues from advertising, traditional and commercial news journalism in Sweden is nowadays mainly financed by paid subscriptions, and increasingly supported by diverse subsidies.

Sweden is marked by wide-reaching broadband access and digital innovation, with global platform companies also gaining a strong foothold. Public service broadcasters and newspapers have long had a strong presence in the Swedish media market, and nowadays compete for attention online alongside a plethora of information sources, including alternative news media.

Public service broadcasters Swedish Television (SVT) and Swedish Radio (SR) continue to play significant roles in the Swedish media landscape, and their legitimacy is associated with offering content for everyone and a wide reach among the public. Older citizens regularly turn to PSBs, but they must work harder to reach the young. In this regard, SR actively works with third-party platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Spotify, focusing on audio and storytelling. SVT is also present on third-party platforms, yet tends to be more concerned about allowing platforms to collect and analyse metrics about their audiences. Many commercial news media companies in Sweden have also developed more restrictive approaches to platform companies.

There is a long history of Swedes subscribing to newspapers. Nearly one-third (30%) have paid for online news in the last year according to the Digital News Report survey, which places Sweden among the countries with the highest percentage paying for online news. DNR data show that many of the online subscriptions go to four national newspapers, Aftonbladet, Expressen, Dagens Nyheter, and Svenska Dagbladet. Sweden’s local news sector, comprising more than a hundred local titles, has also been successful in attracting paying customers online – accounting for more than a third (37%) of the total. However, it should be noted that subscription data include those taking out short-term trial subscriptions and special offers. One study found major differences between subscribers, with short-term subscribers showing much less involvement and activity with the news compared to users with long-term ones.1 Altogether, in 2020 nearly five out of ten Swedes lived in a household with a subscription for news (print or digital), whereas in the 1980s eight out of ten did.2

Despite the pandemic, according to the Swedish Newspaper Association, the national and local morning newspapers increased their overall reader revenues slightly in 2020. The improvement was driven by online subscriptions, where revenues were up 45% on 2019, counteracting the impact of lower income from print subscriptions, down 4%, and declining advertising revenues, 21% down compared to 2019.3 The global platform companies continue to take the majority of the digital advertising spend in Sweden, leaving publishers struggling to compete. Nevertheless, Swedish media companies have invested heavily in using data and analytics to acquire and engage online users and to maximise advertising and in 2020 the local news organisation MittMedia became the global INMA winner for ‘Best use of data analytics or research’.

The COVID-19 crisis has affected Sweden and Swedish news media in various ways. Sweden has not enforced a strict lockdown, but the authorities have imposed multiple restrictions, and have also increased financial support to all struggling sectors, as well as more specific subsidies to the news industry. In 2020 a total of €144m was granted in direct support to commercial Swedish news media, placing the Swedish subsidy scheme very significantly ahead of all the other Nordic countries even after allowing for Sweden’s larger population. The €144m total for 2020 compared to €62.7m in 2019 and included one-off payments of €29.6m in general editorial support and €14.8m in COVID support. News publishers have generally reorganised to work remotely, using digital platforms and tools such as Slack and Teams to coordinate news production activities.

Our survey findings suggest SVT, commercial channel TV4, SR, and local newspapers are the most widely used legacy news media, whereas Swedes predominantly turn to SVT and the evening tabloids Aftonbladet and Expressen for their online news. Several alternative online news media, Fria Tider, Nyheter Idag, and Samhällsnytt, which appear near the bottom of our list of news sources used each week, largely appeal to right-wing audiences and secure about 7% weekly reach each.

Oscar Westlund
Oslo Metropolitan University, Volda University College, and University of Gothenburg.

Changing media

Swedes continue to mainly use their smartphone for online news, followed by computers or tablets. These patterns have remained stable over time, as has their social media use, for which Facebook is most important in general and for news.

Pay for online news

30%

Listen to podcast in the last month

37%

Share news via social, messaging or email

21%

Trust

Trust in news overall

50%

(+12) =14/46

Trust in news I use

56%

Trust in news in search

30%

Trust in news on social media

16%

Half (50%) of Swedes say they trust the news overall, significantly up from last year. As elsewhere, trust is higher in the news media individuals use, but with unusually low levels of trust in news found via social media. SVT, SR, and local media are most trusted, followed by quality newspapers.

Footnotes

1 Wadbring, I., Bergström, L. ‘Audiences behind the Paywall: News Navigation among Established versus Newly Added Subscribers’, Digital Journalism (2021). DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2021.1878919

2 Ohlson, J., Blach-Ørsten, M., Willig, I. Covid-19 och de nordiska nyhetsmedierna (Gothenburg: Nordicom, 2021).

3 ‘Hushållen lägger mer pengar på nyheter’, TU Mediefakta, 11 Mar. 2021. https://tu.se/mediefakta/hushallen-lagger-mer-pengar-pa-nyheter/