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Is achieving integration of print and digital publishing the pursuit of the Holy Grail? Well, it certainly sounds nice listening to a publisher talk about burgeoning digital revenues in multiple channels, alongside beautiful print products.

Verdens Gang is a Norwegian newspaper with a daily circulation of more than 200,000, in a population of 5m. Across print and digital, 1.8m people use VG daily.

At Digital Media Strategies 2014, editor-in-chief and CEO of VG Torry Pedersen gave the lowdown on how they integrated print and digital effectively, along with how they monetised smartphone and tablet content.

Culture is the key, as is so often the case in disrupted industries where big brands have to adapt and are competing with pure-plays that have started on the right foot.

Torry used the analogy of Haile Gebreselassie vs. Usain Bolt to describe print and digital. They both run but they run in very different ways and they shouldn’t have the same training regimen. The same can be said of magazine-style high quality print products compared with the fast-moving multimedia world of online news. The two teams can’t necessarily work together.

That’s why from 2000 until 2011, everything at VG was separate for print and online, from ads to editorial. In 2011 the two were joined back together once again.

The same thing happened with mobile and desktop, the two had separate ad sales and technical teams from 2010 until 2014 (though the same content team). Now ad sales and techies across desktop and mobile are integrated.

So what are the challenges that VG has overcome and how is it moving forward?

Mobile vs the newspaper

Online, Verdens Gang aims to deliver on the moment of ‘now’. The mobile homepage often has live coverage of a story. And on the website, a big story will often have five or six different streams of coverage, from live TV streams to Twitter feeds to live blogging and editorial.

Mobility was always the main advantage of a printed newspaper. It can be ‘lean back’, it is asynchronous i.e. it is dipped into whenever, it is a ‘break from life’.

But the smartphone came along and of course it is even more asynchronous, in that it is available in any location (whereas a Norwegian printed paper is hard to find in the UK) and is constantly updated. This updating makes the smartphone even better for a lot of yet shorter breaks.

The move from reading a newspaper to accessing web content can be illustrated most starkly when looking at a particular audience.

In 2002, 40% of 15-19 year olds read a newspaper in Norway. Ten years later in 2012, only 12.6% of this age group in Norway (now 25-29) read a newspaper.

The same age groups digital product consumption went from 15.9% in 2002 to 59.6% in 2012. That’s an unprecedented change.

men reading newspapers

Culture

Torry has a 15 minute stand-up meeting every single day at the VG offices where all staff can attend and there is an atmosphere of maximum transparency. Arguments are seen as a positive part of decision making.

Unless the culture is right, print and online cannot live together effectively.

Thresholds for VG and publishers to pass

  1. More digital readers than analogue readers. VG passed this in 2010.
  2. More ad revenue from online than off-. VG passed this in 2012.
  3. 2m users paying for a subscription online. VG is working towards this – payment online is the challenge of the subscription model.

As an early mover, VG mobile is currently more than double the size of the nearest competitor in terms of traffic. During the last Olympics, 1m unique users a day visited the mobile site.

To capitalise on this ad opportunity, VG started its own in-house ad agency.

Mobile ads have generated £15m in revenue in 2013 for VG, and are expected to hit £20m in 2014.

verdens gang web tv

Web TV: the next frontier?

VG recognises TV as the next trend. 70% of web TV audiences in Norway are under 40 (50% under 35s) and this compares to TV set viewing which has an audience of whom 50% are over 50.

Advertisers love this perception of web TV as a big trend with younger audiences and with VG earning 60% of ad revenue from digital, web TV is the next stage.

VG is taking content from around the world, from news to entertainment to sport and documentaries and is spending a lot of money on providing a web TV service, knowing that in five or six years, they may see a return similar to that of mobile ads.

Success has already come from events such as rolling web TV coverage of Istanbul during its riots. These pictures were not shown in Turkey and VG received a large proportion of Turkish traffic.

Conclusion: the main challenges of integrating print and digital for VG

  1. The move of users from desktop to mobile browsing.
  2. The need to increase paying subscriptions.
  3. Leveraging revenue on print media.
  4. Disrupting TV.
  5. Structuring the organization internally to support new needs.
Ben Davis

Published 5 March, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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