Sweden: Huge cutbacks at print media

The drop in circulation at Swedish newspapers continues unabated. The larger papers are worst hit while free local papers are faring better and some have even been able to increase their circulations.

Advertisement for Aftonbladet on the building of the Ministry of the Environment in Stockholm (Flickr, Arjan Richter, CC BY 2.0)
Advertisement for Aftonbladet on the building of the Ministry of the Environment in Stockholm (Flickr, Arjan Richter, CC BY 2.0)
At the end of 2017 the newcomer to the daily paper sector, ETC, was finally forced to accept defeat. In 2014 the magazine had added a left-leaning daily newspaper to its repertoire with the help of a crowdfunding campaign, but declining circulation figures eventually led to the closure of 15 local newsrooms. The big names in the industry, such as Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet, had already been forced into mass layoffs at the start of the 2010s. Sydsvenskan and Helsingborg Dagblad axed no less than 180 jobs in 2014. The most recent victims of sweeping cutbacks were the newspapers of the Stampen group. This group includes titles like the Göteborgs-Posten, which encountered major financial difficulties in 2016 as a result of its aggressive expansion strategy.

At the same time news websites are making headway, and more and more of them are charging for access to their content. Whereas the print run of Aftonbladet, for example, is dropping steadily, its digital subscription sales have risen sharply in the last few years. Several newspapers are therefore focusing on expanding their online presence and on developing their own apps for smartphones and tablets. Television and radio broadcasters are also increasing their online activities. So far, however, none of the major media outlets has dropped everything else to focus entirely on its online presence.

Thus, many things have changed in recent times in Sweden, a country that in 1776 was one of the first countries in the world to enshrine freedom of the press in its constitution. Press freedom is a key element of freedom of speech, which has always been a cherished principle in Sweden. The changes are to be reflected in reforms of state support for daily newspapers and in the system for financing public broadcasters. What exactly these reforms would entail did not become clear until the start of 2018.

A distinctive feature of Sweden's media landscape is the relatively prominent role still played by the public broadcasters, Sveriges Television and Sveriges Radio. Sveriges Radio broadcasts not just in Swedish but also in Sweden's minority languages, as well as in seven other languages. Both broadcasters are financed via licence fees and do not feature any advertising. The control structures are designed to keep political influence to a minimum. However, the rise of private television and radio - in particular TV3, TV4 and Canal+ - since the early 1990s has also had a strong impact on the programming of public broadcasters, which have copied formats from private TV, such as soaps and competition shows.

The public broadcasters and the major daily papers play a key role in shaping public debate in Sweden. As a result of various acquisitions and concentration processes in the 1990s and 2000s the newspaper market is now dominated by the Norwegian media group Schibsted and the Swedish company Bonnier media.

Press Freedom Index (Reports Without Borders):
Rank 2 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018
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