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Newspapers see sales and ad revenue climb

Newspapers saw their circulation and advertising revenue climb worldwide last year as the rapid growth of free titles and online publications extended their reach, according to a report released in Gothenburg on Monday.

The report was published to coincide with the annual congress of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), which is being held in Sweden for the first time.

One Swedish report due to presented at the conference states that Sweden “has the world’s fourth largest concentration of newspapers and is still a country in which it is possible to make money from a regional paid-for newspaper,” according to Svenska Dagbladet’s media commentator Martin Jönsson.

The World Association of Newspapers said global newspaper sales were up 2.57 percent over the year, and had increased 9.39 percent over the past five years.

“When free dailies are added to the paid newspaper circulation, global circulation increased 3.65 percent last year, and 14.3 percent over the past five years,” it said.

“Free dailies now account for nearly seven percent of all global newspaper circulation and for 23 percent of circulation in Europe alone,” it noted.

“Advertising revenue for paid dailies were up 0.86 percent last year from a year earlier, and up 12.84 percent over five years, WAN said. “Print remains the world’s largest advertising medium, with a 40 percent share.”

WAN chief executive Timothy Balding said that “Newspaper circulation has been rising or stable in three-quarters of the world’s countries over the past five years and in nearly 80 percent of countries in the past year.”

“And even in places where paid-for circulation is declining, notably the United States and some countries in western Europe, newspapers continue to extend their reach through a wide variety of free and niche publications and through their rapidly developing multi-media platforms.”

WAN’s annual survey of all countries and territories where newspapers are published showed that global sales of paid-for newspapers rose to more than 532 million daily.

With free dailies added, circulation increased to more than 573 million, while average readership is estimated to be more than 1.7 billion people.

“The total number of paid-for daily titles was up 2.98 percent in the world in 2007 and up 11.02 percent since 2003 to a record 11,926 titles,” WAN said.

“The total number of paid and free titles increased by 3.65 percent in 2007 and by 14.30 percent since 2003.”

Of the world’s 100 best selling dailies, 74 are published in Asia, with China, Japan and India accounting for 62 of them, WAN said.

The five largest markets for newspapers are China, with 107 million copies sold daily, India, with 99 million, Japan, with 68 million, the United States, with nearly 51 million, and Germany with 20.6 million.

Sales rose in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, but fell in other regions, though in the European Union for example the advent of free papers kept circulation up.

Internet advertising revenue — not just newspapers online, but all Internet advertising — was up 32.45 percent over one year and 200 percent over five years, WAN said.

“Most of the revenue is generated in the United States, western Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region: North American Internet advertising revenue is 20 times greater than the combined revenue generated in central and eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.”

“In Europe, Internet display advertising revenues now surpass classified revenues while search remains the largest advertising market online. Newspaper online revenues are forecast to more than double in the next five years and will account for 12 percent of total newspaper advertising by 2011.”

A total of 312 free daily newspapers had a combined circulation of 41.04 million daily, a circulation increase of 20 percent over one year and 173.2 percent over five years.

“When free and paid-for circulations are combined, free dailies account for seven percent of the total world-wide, 23 percent in Europe, eight percent in the US and two percent in Asia.”

The number of newspaper on-line sites grew 13.77 percent in 2007 and 50.77 percent over the five years from 2003, WAN said.

“A study in the US shows that newspaper web site users also read the print edition: 81 percent of online newspaper readers also read a printed newspaper at least once a week.”

MEDIA

ANALYSIS: The conservative Swedish news site that crashed and burned

How did a would-be "Swedish New York Times" rise and fall only months after its launch – and what lessons can the media world learn from the story of Bulletin, asks journalism professor Christian Christensen in this opinion piece.

ANALYSIS: The conservative Swedish news site that crashed and burned
Bulletin was marketed as a place where Swedes on the political right could feel at home. Photo: Helena Landstedt/TT

I imagine a Swedish newspaper inspired by the UK’s quality press or their American counterparts – such as the Times of London, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Which makes a distinction between news and views, between news and opinion, and which strives to make its readers more enlightened, rather than to pursue an agenda.

These words were published in late December 2020 by Paulina Neuding, editor-in-chief of the newly launched online newspaper, Bulletin. Four months later, Neuding and almost the entire editorial staff, had left Bulletin after a series of embarrassing mistakes, organisational shake-ups and a brutal public conflict with ownership. Taking over as the new editor? A former senior staffer from the New York Times who cannot read or speak Swedish, knows little about Sweden and who will edit the paper from his home in New Jersey.

How did we get here?

Marketing itself as a place where Swedes on the political right could feel at home, Bulletin was created, Neuding wrote last year, to provide “liberal conservative” opinion combined with “evidence-based and neutral” reporting. These comments were made within a very specific context: conservatives in Sweden consider mainstream Swedish media outlets to be predominantly leftist or centre-leftist in ideology. The national public service television (SVT) and radio (SR) channels are particular targets of the right, with steady accusations of leftist bias. Research, however, shows that claims of leftist bias in Swedish news media, including public service broadcasting, are without merit.

So, Bulletin was born. Investors put down around 8 million Swedish kronor (around €800,000); well-known media columnists and personalities signed on to give the site name recognition; and, Swedish media (mainstream and social) gave Bulletin a great deal of coverage and free advertising. If the hype was to be believed, Bulletin could be an interesting case of a new, “high quality” right-wing news outlet entering the Swedish media market.

Despite the PR and hype, however, Bulletin imploded in what can only be described as the most spectacular of fashions.

For all of the lofty talk of inspiration from highbrow Anglo-American publications, Bulletin was always more likely to resemble the anti-immigration Daily Mail Online, or a slightly more serious version of Fox News, than the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Multiple commentators in Sweden noted that the purpose of Bulletin, rooted largely in the ideology of the primary financiers of the project, was to serve as a messenger for the anti-immigration conservative right.

The content during the early weeks of the publication only confirmed this. Heavy on re-hashed wire service stories and opinion pieces, and thin on actual journalism, Bulletin marked itself with stories and articles centering around immigrants and immigration, and particularly those related to crime and cultural clashes. Evidence of “evidence-based” reporting in the vein of the New York Times was almost non-existent.

But, as it would turn out, low-quality anti-immigrant content was the least of Bulletin’s problems. The outlet was marked from the outset by deep and fundamental structural problems, as well as the presence of owners who saw Bulletin as their own, personal messaging system.

Read more opinions about life in Sweden:

After just two months on the job, Paulina Neuding inexplicably stepped down as editor-in-chief, handing the reins to former columnist Ivar Arpi. As would be revealed later, after discovering that a Bulletin co-owner had published an article on the site without her knowledge, Neuding had the piece removed. The resulting conflict led to her stepping down.

Only a few weeks later, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published a piece showing that Bulletin had plagiarised over 20 news articles, with material taken verbatim from press releases, wire service articles and even other media outlets. Adding to the crisis, free speech expert Nils Funcke argued in a separate article that Bulletin did not have the proper legal structure in place to offer their sources protection and anonymity; and, in addition, the lack of proper legal structure made those who wrote the stories legally responsible for the content, rather than the publisher (the standard for Swedish news outlets). In short, Bulletin was nothing like an actual news outlet.

At the start of March, the wheels had come off, and open warfare broke out between Bulletin owners and editorial staff. Senior editors accused owners of undermining editorial integrity by using the platform to publish personal pieces without oversight. Owners, on the other hand, accused editors of being both dishonest and incompetent. Publicly. On Facebook. An audio recording was even leaked to the media trade newspaper Journalisten documenting a heated meeting between Bulletin staff and owners. The situation became untenable, and by the end of March editor-in-chief Arpi and several other senior staff announced their resignations.

What are the lessons of Bulletin?

First, the story exposed the fallacy of the idea that if you combine well-known media “personalities” with some money and hype, you can overcome an almost total absence of editorial experience and organisational structure. Bulletin put all of its eggs into the celebrity basket by recruiting famous conservative columnists who had little or no experience either editing a daily newspaper or starting a news organisation from the ground up. The results became immediately obvious to anyone who actually looked at the website.

Second, Bulletin is a classic case study of media owners who think that their investment gives them the automatic right to dictate the content of their outlets. This is nothing new, of course, and owners influencing content – either directly or indirectly – is a feature of many privately controlled outlets around the world. What is unusual in the case of Bulletin, however, is how explicit and how public was the exposure of that tension.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Bulletin is a particularly brutal case study in reaping what you sow. The investors, and many of the media personalities they recruited, made their names by attacking the ideological biases and political agendas of mainstream outlets in general, and public broadcasting in particular, as well as advocating for increased freedom (often in form of the free market) from what they see as an oppressive state apparatus. And what happened? The media personalities ended up working for an outlet that displayed the bluntest forms of corporate bias and owner interference. Those who resigned from Bulletin were not simply victims of aggressive owners. They were, first and foremost, early and willing participants in a media venture that reflected a worldview they had themselves pushed and defended.

That this conservative outlet, which published multiple opinion pieces lamenting the decline of Swedish culture, is now edited by someone sitting in a foreign country who is literally unable to read the stories he publishes is perhaps the perfect conclusion to a tale of media failure.

Christian Christensen is a professor of journalism at Stockholm University in Sweden.

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