Norwegian paper disrupts itself

The International Herald-Tribune — a paper that could probably use some disrupting of its own, from what I’ve heard — has a piece about a Norwegian newspaper that seems to have succeeded in carving out a business online. According to the story, Schibsted is an Oslo-based newspaper publisher that saw its earnings climb by almost 30 per cent in the fourth quarter, thanks largely to its online operations, which one analyst says could account for about 60 per cent of the company’s earnings next year.

Bharat Anand, a professor at Harvard Business School who is writing a case study on the company, says that:

“There’s clearly something quite special here… There’s no question they managed this transition earlier than a lot of newspaper companies, and they’re in a better position as a result.”

disruption.pngAccording to the story (which Stowe Boyd has also mentioned in a recent post), Schibsted started investing in new media way back in 1995, and continued to do so even during the dot-com bust. It is now the biggest Internet media player in Norway and in Sweden, has expanded into new markets like France and Spain by starting free newspapers (under the name 20 Minutes) and launching high profit-margin classified-ad businesses like Finn.no

The newspaper company, which publishes the tabloid paper Verdens Gang and the higher-brow newspaper Aftenposten, also started launching online sites even though they threatened to cannibalize their existing assets. Schibsted’s CEO says that the company “changed from a defensive stance at the beginning of the Internet age to a very offensive one.” Some analysts have said that the publisher was able to shift gears so quickly in part because several senior managers did not come from a newspaper background.

Update:

Lucas Grindley notes that the 20-per-cent of revenue figure in the IHT article conflicts with the data on the Schibsted site, where it says online accounts for 20 per cent of profits — which is somewhat less impressive, but still noteworthy.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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