Hi Robin, thank you for taking some times out of your schedule to do our Publisher Talk. Could you just briefly introduce who you are, your background, MittMedia and what it is you do?
I’m the Chief Digital Officer for MittMedia. That means I’m responsible for our digital transformation. In my organization, there’s a lot of different skills: Journalists, product managers, software developers, content developers. Just to name a few. Mittmedia is a group publisher of community news brands in Sweden. We have the same challenges as all our colleagues do. Print revenue in decline and an organization filled with tradition. But we also have a culture of innovation and a team that’s determined to win. That’s why I’m happy to work at MittMedia.
2) Is it all about engagement, loyalty, and trust? How do you build strong relationships with your readers?
We are fortunate to have a strong relationship and strong brands, to begin with. Many of our newspapers have over 150-year-old history. That’s both a strength and a weakness. One big strength is that we have a strong loyal audience. This has been the case since we first started our digital products over 20 years ago. Almost 90 percent of our page views are direct traffic. That’s a pretty unique position when you look at it from a global perspective. But MittMedia is not exceptional on the Swedish market. We have solid direct traffic in the Nordic countries.
– I believe the reason behind that is our focus on the user’s need instead of our needs. When you have strong behavioral shifts, like the move from print to digital, it’s easy for a company to play defense. That would be devastating, in my opinion.
3) „Print is dead“ – would you agree and why?
No, I don’t agree. It’s not dead. But it’s in „hospice care“. We have a strong readership and a healthy revenue from our print products. But the print products isn’t something that we focus on from a strategical perspective. As an example: All our reporters work with a digital-only focus. The printed newspapers is a product that our print editors assemble from the stories that have been published online.
4) How much revenue can you make out of digital advertising compared to the subscription business? Just peanuts?
I think that’s a common misconception. Focusing on reader revenue isn’t something that automatically means a decline in ad revenue. The last year we have grown a lot in the number of digital subscribers and more and more content, 50–90 percent, is behind the paywall. At the same time, we have grown our digital ad revenue. How come? Our subscribers use our digital products more than the „fly-bys“ and we can also collect more user data rendering a more relevant product.
5) How did MittMedia transform Print subscribers into Digital subscribers?
I don’t think you can definitely segment subscribers as print subscribers and digital subscribers. As an example: 2/3 of our logged in users on our websites are what you would call „print subscribers“. In reality, users are more complex than „either or“. They use both
digital and print products. We are actively working on getting all our print subscribers to start using digital products as a complement to their print product. We try to get them to start using our e-paper app, we have even held physical training sessions for customers at our different offices. So when they, in many cases, inevitably feel that the printed product isn’t for them, they will remain as subscribers to our digital products.
6) Some believe robots will replace journalists, what would you say to them?
This isn’t a threat, it’s a possibility. If a journalist feels that he or she can be replaced by a robot – that particular person probably can. But a robot can’t replace an ambitious, talented journalist – they can only make that person’s job easier. Automation makes investigative journalism possible. We use robot journalism to do things journalists can’t. Like writing a story on every single house sold in our communities.
7) Swedish Publishers seem to deal much better with the changes such as digitalization compared to German Publishers. Are the markets so much different or are the Swedish publishers just better?
There are some differences, for sure, between the Swedish and German market. Like demographical and geographical challenges. But when it comes to user behavior it’s pretty much universal. People crave information. For us, working at a publishing company, it’s all about solving the user’s problem.
8) What`s one „golden rule“ Publishers should follow when addressing digitalization?
It’s a bit of a cliche but I try to live by it every day: Focus on the user and everything else will follow.
9) Google and Facebook are seen as Gatekeepers and some publishers call it a real threat. Do you agree? If so how do you handle them?
The big platforms are indeed gatekeepers if you use them as your main traffic source. I don’t think anyone should put themselves in that position. You need to have a direct relationship with your users otherwise it’s not your users. We use Google and Facebook as a way to market our products, not as a traffic source.
10) Last Question, who do you look up to in the Publishing industry and why?
I first started working in the publishing business when I was 14. First as a paperboy after school and then as an advertisement designer and a reporter. My first boss was a man I still admire: Helge Gustafzon, a seasoned newspaperman, who understood that newspapers are all about relevancy. Both the journalistic content and the ads need to be of interest to the reader. That’s what makes it a sustainable product.