The Tabloid War – Expressen – Surviving the Techstorm


When the Second World War was nearing its end in late 1944, Swedish tabloid Expressen was founded as a reaction to the fascist and Nazi movement in Europe at that time.

For the first 30 years, the newspaper showed steady and impressive growth, reaching a circulation of 600,000 daily copies. Then the early 1970s arrived, and with that, the oil crisis and a global recession. The growth stopped and circulation stabilized at a still impressive 550,000 daily copies.

In 1995 the internet arrived, and with it, the advent of “the new economy” and a time of high expectation and radical change, bigger than in the previous 50 years in total. The paper’s circulation plummeted to around 300,000 copies daily. Then in the late 1990s, circulation increased again, by 20% in just a couple of years. At this time, the Expressen leadership made a huge and very costly mistake: it cut back on IT spending.

Considering this graph from a year 2000 perspective, it appeared that the internet was just a fad, so maybe the decision was not such a poor one at that specific moment in time. But with hindsight, it is very clear that it was, and the disruption over the past 15 years has been enormous. Today, Expressen has a daily circulation of approximately 170,000 copies, and few would bet on there being a paper edition 10, perhaps even five, years from now.

Expressen is a modern incarnation of a classic tabloid, with a fast and often sensational style of reporting, but as a technology transformation case study, it is one of the most impressive I have seen in recent years. In an effort to catch up with its main competitor, Expressen has moved development in-house and gone from five to 55 developers in less than two years. In 2015, it is expanding its TV division from 10 to 60 people in six months.

From a strategic perspective, Expressen takes a business approach to the fast changing technological landscape. Ten years ago, its readers abandoned the paper edition for desktop computers, and five years ago they left that platform for mobile devices and an app ecosystem. Today, it is all up to the creative and technical abilities of the newspaper to stay ahead of the competition and create new ways of delivering content.

Expressen has a number of priorities that sets it apart from many other media outlets today:

The Swedish media market is relatively small, and therefore all media outlets compete head to head for the same reader audience. In larger markets, media outlets as well as consumers, can afford to be more selective and “niche”.

Until recently, Expressen used off-the-shelf solutions for online publishing, meaning that it had the same solution as most other players in its marketplace. Today, it has expanded from five to 55 developers who work on unique solutions across all platforms. This means that Expressen is now “unique” both in terms of content and in the technology/user experience it offers readers. Compare this to the large, traditional media companies in Europe and the US that use off-the-shelf solutions.

One challenge is that Expressen, today, competes directly with media channels in other countries, often venture capital funded and very technology savvy. For example, Huffington Post is very well versed in the Google search engine algorithms and can adjust accordingly. Buzzfeed, on the other hand, has expert knowledge of the Facebook technology and ecosystem. To fight this, Expressen partners with global media outlets with similar approaches and user bases.

The competitive media landscape is growing ever more complex as publishers venture into new areas. Print media is turning to the web and TV formats, while broadcast media turns to the web and also sometimes to print. To compete with this, Expressen launches new niche magazines and follows this up with specific web publications as well as TV channels with news and unique content produced in-house.