Swedish commercial news publishers have seen advertising revenues diminish over the years. They mostly rely on reader revenues, with Swedes being relatively positive about paying for news online. The relative importance of social media for distribution has declined.
Sweden is marked by near universal broadband access and extensive mobile internet penetration. Digital media have become an integral part of Swedes’ everyday life, and this includes, but is not limited to, turning to internet-enabled devices such as smartphones and laptops to enjoy media content such as music, books, and video, and to get informed about the news, as well as communicating and carrying out tasks. In addition, so-called alternative news media – news sites that see themselves, or are perceived, as offering a corrective to the mainstream news media1 have become influential among a substantial portion of the population.
Commercial news publishers as well as PSM institutions Swedish Television (SVT) and Swedish Radio (SR) have focused on their online presence, as well as cross-promoting some of their news and content on social media platforms. SVT has succeeded in securing a strong position in online news and has taken the plunge in shifting a lot of news investment out of broadcast into digital content. SR has developed native podcasts and SVT new video formats aimed at young people. Commercial publishers such as Aftonbladet, Expressen, Dagens Industri are also investing in podcasts and new audio formats.
Sharing news online is reported by 23%. Facebook is still the biggest social network overall but has become less important for news – down 5 percentage points this year to 24%. Publishers vary in their approaches to platforms, some being cautious about spending efforts that make them dependent on platforms non-proprietary to them, whereas others are keener on building presence on a diverse set of platforms.
A major reason why publishers have developed a platform presence has to do with their efforts to reach out to the young and young adults. The relationship between publishers and platforms is complex. On the one hand platforms can help publishers extend reach. But publishers are concerned about platforms benefiting from the data generated by their users and reaping much of the value from publishers, and thus want to reduce their dependence on them.
Publishers have increasingly turned to developing reader revenue strategies, and the Digital News Report findings show that 33% of Swedes pay for news, one of the highest figures in the survey. Overall, the most successful in terms of reader revenues are the evening tabloids Aftonbladet and Expressen, and the subscription-based Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet, all of which have national coverage. Some brands like Aftonbladet try to mix free and premium content to maintain reach (47% online weekly) but also bring in subscribers using premium news and other content such as health, fitness, and weight management. Importantly, the loyalty of online news subscriptions differs from print subscriptions insofar as there are often special offers for trial subscriptions, and subscribers may well try these out for a relatively short period of time. From 2021 to 2022 the overall revenues for digital subscriptions for Swedish news publishers (excluding evening tabloids) increased by 15%. Importantly, digital subscriptions totalled €132m, whereas print subscription revenues were €418m. Overall, digital subscriptions thus account for around one quarter of all reader revenues.2
In 2021 69% of all Swedish advertising spend went to digital advertising. However, 72% of that digital investment went to search engines and social media platforms. In 2021 overall advertising expenditure increased to €4.64bn, meaning that publishers generally broke even on their own after years in which they were very dependent on subsidies, especially during the pandemic. Throughout 2022 the Swedish newspaper association has reported continuous growth in advertising revenues.3 In spite of this, over the longer term publishers have struggled financially and in recent years have repeatedly shrunk their operations in efforts to reduce costs. As so much advertising revenue goes to the platform companies, many Swedish commercial news publishers are still dependent on subsidies and other support from the authorities. Swedish authorities are currently exploring how to design a reformed subsidy programme that can sustain news across the whole country, and that is better matched with a news industry increasingly focused on reader revenues.
Oslo Metropolitan University and University of Gothenburg
Sweden is a digitally developed country. Online, including social media, is the leading source of news, but social media use for news has declined 10pp since 2018. Public service organisations (SVT and SR) and commercial news companies have significant user reach online.
Pay for online news
Listen to podcast in the last month
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Overall trust in news remains at 50%. Trust increased markedly after 2020, probably due to COVID-19, but Sweden sustained that increase whereas elsewhere it generally fell back. Three out of four Swedes express trust in public broadcasters SVT and SR. There is also relatively high trust in local newspapers, which still play an important part in the Swedish media landscape.