The Swedish are coming, and they mean business

One of Sweden's biggest publishing groups is expanding. And it's doing it in Edinburgh, with a newspaper aimed at 600,000 Scottish business readers
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The Independent Online

Scotland could have its own financial daily newspaper in autumn, backed by the Swedish media group, Bonnier. Provisionally called Scottish Business, the newcomer would aim for a share of the country's 600,000 business readers hungry for a diet of Scottish and international financial news, to be served up by a staff of 120 based in Scotland and abroad.

Bonnier, like rival Swedish publisher Modern Times Group, which last year invaded the British market with its free newspaper Metro, isn't exactly a household name. However it is one of the largest media companies in the Nordic region with an annual turnover of nearly $2bn (£1.2bn). Although 62 per cent of revenue derives from Bonnier's home market, 93 per cent of growth last year was outside Sweden and the company operates in 17 European markets.

"By European standards we're not that big. In Sweden we are," says Bonnier president and chief executive officer Bengt Braun. "So if we want to expand, we have to look outside." The 200-year-old family- controlled company has an extensive portfolio, including the leading daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter, magazines and interests in film, TV, radio and new media.

But the business publishing sector is where Bonnier sees greatest growth, using financial daily Dagens Industri as its blueprint. In a country with a population of nine million, the 24-year-old newspaper has a phenomenal domestic circulation of more than 110,000. Over the past decade the title has been successfully exported to eight markets, including Denmark, Poland, Russia and Austria. Hungary proved a costly failure and the project was aborted after two years.

"We've been encouraged by what we've learned in each market, with the exception of Hungary, and expanded step by step," says Mr Braun.

The game plan is usually the same. Bonnier researches each potential market thoroughly - two years in Scotland's case, which, Mr Braun says, has "a language we at least can pretend to understand".

Market conditions need to be right: a literate population, a buoyant economy and growing public awareness of the financial markets. Scotland has always boasted a literate population and Edinburgh, home to the new Scottish Parliament, is one of Europe's leading centres for fund management. It is also headquarters to the Royal Bank of Scotland. In short, it fits all the criteria, says Mr Braun, adding: "There's a growing interest worldwide in these things. We see it in everything from insurance to the financial markets."

Bonnier also relies on local personnel who know the market intimately, rather than parachuting in its own troops. Jim Chisholm, a former managing director of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail heads the new company called Business Media Scotland. The editor is John Penman, the Record's former development director for new business and an ex-political editor of The Scotsman. Penman, working on the same principle as his new employer, has already poached a string of experienced journalists from The Scotsman.

Bonnier has previously entered markets where competition is relatively weak; for example, Austrian export Wirtschaftsbladt took that small market by storm. By comparison, The Herald in Glasgow and The Scotsman are canny and aggressive fighters. Arguably, international heavyweights the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal Europe (The WSJE) pose less of a problem. The FT's commitment to Scotland, which averages sales of just over 10,000, extends to one reporter, while The WSJE is averaging sales of 18,000 in the UK.

John Penman insists there is enough room for the newcomer and says the new venture will grow rather than cannibalise the market.

Clearly, Bonnier sees itself as a long-term player - although Braun was enigmatic about whether the company would use its Scottish experience as a springboard for launches into other English-language speaking markets.

"We haven't made any such plans," he said. "But if it works in Scotland, maybe."