Founded in 2004, The Local is a digital-only English language newspaper. Their nine editions cover breaking news and features from Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
We sat down with founder James Savage to talk about the paywall model and the future of journalism in the region.
What’s behind the success of paywall journalism in the Nordic region?
I think the main reason is the strong tradition of newspaper subscriptions. In Sweden and Norway, many people still subscribe directly to a print newspaper, whereas in other countries like the UK people may go via newsagents. That direct financial relationship has enabled newspapers to start out with digital by bundling it into the print subscriptions.
There’s also the high level of digital penetration in the region, which goes back to the early adoption of broadband internet in the 1990s. There is a high level of trust in general, and the level of credit card use is high.
Why did The Local decide to introduce a paywall, and how has the experience been?
We did a lot of research before launching because our readers are not typical for the region. We don’t have a print legacy, so our readers are not necessarily part of the strong Nordic tradition of newspaper subscribers.
We first introduced the model on our Swedish site to make sure we understood all the dynamics and had a chance to iron out all the creases before launching elsewhere. It will soon also be in place on our French and German sites and will come to other countries in due course.
What’s been most successful is the smooth technology because people haven’t had trouble subscribing. We’re happy with subscriber numbers, especially because there are enough to give us useful data, such as the best sources for conversion. Email, for instance, is an important part of our strategy, enabling us to iterate and increase our conversion rates.
What innovations do you expect for Nordic journalism in the coming years?
What I hope we will see is consolidation and cooperation in the media sphere on an international level, perhaps even ending in a Spotify for journalism. We’ve seen all too little of that in news compared to other forms of media, because newspapers are still very nationally-focused.
When it comes to tech, I think the innovations that succeed will be those that help newspapers better monetise our content. I get a lot of calls from startups trying to provide a new service, but until recently most of these calls offered products that would cost us money but provide very little in return. That’s starting to change.