Bergens Tidende is one of the largest newspapers in Norway, the most important paper for Bergen and Western Norway, and one of Europe’s leading regional digital media houses. Founded in 1868, the newspaper has been a staple in the city, an eyewitness to and reporting on the radical changes to the city, region and country for the past 150 years. The media landscape is changing rapidly, expanding across new media at a breakneck pace.
ANTI has had the privilege of working with Bergens Tidende in a variety of functions, from updating the visual identity, brand communications, product development, digital design, strategy and design thinking processes, starting in 2014 and continuing to this day.
MB The societal role of a newspaper cannot be undervalued. Bergens Tidende (BT) is the largest newspaper in Norway outside of Oslo, putting it in a unique position in a Norwegian context, informing and commenting on the issues and events in Bergen, Western Norway, but also in Norway and the world as seen from Bergen. BT also serves as a forum for discourse for the city and region. However, competition for readership and attention is fierce, the ubiquitousness & ease of social media is seemingly unstoppable, and there is a resistance among the younger generations to pay for content.
What are the real changes you expect to see in the media and news landscape in the next year? Three years?
KL The media and news landscape has been, and will continue to be in rapid flux. News organisations face fierce competition on three fronts—attention, time and disposable income. Disruption of the subscription model continues, and our response is to keep developing it further to respond to our readers needs and demands. To remain competitive against enormous, global brands we have to understand our readers on a local level even better, engage them even more in the product—something we are well-poised to do. Our focus will remain on reader engagement and loyalty. To achieve this we will focus even more on audio content and journalism, and personalised communication to the reader.
MB As we speak Bergens Tidende is at the cusp of an all-time subscriber high, an amazing feat while the media industry as a whole is marked by major upheavals around subscription-based sales, expanding international competition and a portion of the readership that resists paying for journalism.
In the face of this adversity, what is Bergens Tidende doing right?
Editor’s note: By the time this article was published, BT had smashed their 150 year old subscription record
KL Our product, innovation and marketing team is not afraid to try new things, moving rapidly from idea to action. In addition to that, we have a solid team with clear goals, and great collaboration within the organisation. Underpinning all of this is our strong business model and—most importantly—the excellent journalism that BT provides its readership.
MB That being said, the business model for newspapers has to change rapidly. Previously the main source of income for newspapers were advertising sales. With the reduction of print and the advancement of large behemoths of digital ad sales like Google & Facebook, is selling subscriptions enough, or will newspapers need to commodify other products or services, in addition to expanding paying readership, to remain competitive?
KL Absolutely. We will continue to explore new products, extensions and more that offer revenue potential. However, although advertising sales remain an important source of revenue, the continued and growing success of our subscription-based approach shows that we have a healthy, competitive and sustainable business model.
MB Over the past few years the Bergens Tidende brand has gone through many changes to adapt to its time and context, both in terms of editorial platform and physical format. The most dramatic change for the paper is of course linked to a new reading pattern, where mobile increases at the expense of paper. This requires completely visual means to create the best possible user experience. In addition, Bergens Tidende as a platform is expanding, including more products and services than ever before.
In 2015 ANTI was brought on to adjust and upgrade the visual identity for the new media landscape, while ensuring that we maintained quality, integrity inherent in the brand and historical position Bergens Tidende has in today’s media market.
Why has investing in design, product & technology been so important? What has been the impact of these investments?
KL ANTI has been an important contributor to our design and communication, both on the editorial platform, but particularly on the commercial side. We now have brand guidelines and an overarching communication concept that we adhere to in all our marketing. ANTI also assisted us when we chose to redefine our visual identity—together with ANTI we redesigned and restructured our logo and brands to make them more logical for our readers, subscribers and partners. I think this investment has contributed not only to making us more effective in our work, but also making it easier for our readers to understand what they get when they read and subscribe to BT.
ANTI has also been a good partner on several new development projects, bringing expertise in Design Thinking processes, and creating prototypes for new products and features. This allows us to quickly verify hypothesis, and quickly iterate on products.
MB Bergens Tidende is owned by Schibsted Media Group, a corporation owning many of the largest newspapers in Norway, particularly in the coastal regions. Each media house retains its own brand, audience, and their own marketing efforts.
In recent years Schibsted has centralised sales efforts to a few campaign periods throughout the year, however we see time and again that Bergens Tidende comes out as sales winner among tough competition.
Lightning rarely strikes the same place twice, what do you think has been the key to this repeated success?
KL I think the strong communication concept has helped a lot. In our marketing we promote our journalists, the editorial content, and BT's role in society as a whole. We employ different, channel-specific strategies depending on what, where and when we want to communicate. We focus mainly on marketing our content, but in certain channels we focus on price and purchase intent. An early and important decision was to adopt a 'mobile first' approach, as that is where most of our sales conversions come from; we are continually working on optimisation.
Another thing that potentially differentiates us from the other media houses is that we have set clear goals that are 'owned' by our entire local workforce. Our progress in reaching these goals is continuously displayed on dashboards around the office, increasing the overall engagement and sense of team throughout the organisation.
I would also like to mention that we have a strong and healthy collaboration with ANTI. They challenge us, but also go the extra mile when we challenge them.
MB Going in to 2019 almost half of all BT subscribers have only a digital subscription, impressive for Scandinavia and nearly unheard of in other parts of Europe.
When do you think the last physical newspaper will physically land on someone’s doorstep?
KL While it’s true that BT leads in Europe in the number of digital subscriptions, we still have a large group of loyal and engaged subscribers who couldn’t imagine going away from their print newspaper experience. As long as readers want a printed newspaper, and as long as it’s sustainable, we will continue to further develop the print product. It is our job to meet their demands.
Meghan Beaton is Account Director in ANTI.
Kari Lindøe is Head of consumer business in Bergens Tidende and Stavanger Aftenblad at Schibsted