As long as the World Association of Newspapers (WAN - IFRA) has published newspaper statistics, Norway has been close to being world leader when it comes to newspaper reading. Of the nations listed in the World Press Trends 2016, Japan has the highest density of paid-for dailies total circulation with 400 copies per 1000 adults. Switzerland (386) and Norway (341) top the list of European countries. There are several reasons for the high newspaper readership in Norway: high early literacy, strong regions and high identification with local communities. Major political and social movements have mobilised support via newspapers, writing for their (potential and actual) followers.
The typical Norwegian newspaper is small (circulation 2000 - 5000), serving one or a few local communities. But there are also regional and national newspapers. With the exception of some of the smaller newspapers, almost all newspapers used to have close links to a political party, but these links were ended between 1970 and 1995. Political ambitions have been replaced by a profit motive for most papers.
Of the 228 newspapers in Norway in 2015, 57 had six or seven editions per week, 59 had three to five editions, 35 had two and 77 were weekly newspapers. Most of these weeklies are small, but there are a few important national weekly newspapers.
The total circulation of Norwegian newspapers increased until about 1990. Then there was a ten-year period with stable circulation (3.1 - 3.2 million copies). Then, the circulation of the popular newspapers started to decline and this was followed by a more general fall in the circulation and readership of printed newspapers - the total circulation was just above 2 million copies in 2015.
The fall in subscriptions and single-copy sales, has hit newspapers’ revenues both directly and indirectly via the decreasing advertising revenues. Income from electronic publishing of the content has not been enough to compensate the losses from the printed content. As a result, the workforce in the newspaper industry has reduced.
The first newspapers in Norway were established in the 1760s, mostly serving the administrative and economic elites. The four newspapers that were established before 1800, were located in the four cathedral cities, giving the Norwegian press a regional foundation. A certain degree of freedom of printing and freedom of expression was granted by the constitution of 1814, when Norway entered a union with Sweden. The relationship with Sweden became politicised in the 1860s and there was a close interaction between the establishment of a political opposition and the establishment of new, more liberal newspapers, drawing their readers from peasants and the urban middle class. After Norway had gained full independence from Sweden, also the working class was recruited as newspaper readers through the establishment of a number of local and regional newspapers founded by the labour movement. For 100 years from 1885 onwards, most Norwegian newspapers supported a political party.
A system with local competition between several newspapers, representing different political parties, was the typical structure of the press until the German occupation of Norway in 1940. Following the liberation in 1945, the political press was re-established, but a process of monopolisation of local markets started in the 1950s. Competition for market shares gradually became more important than political content.
Until 1985, each of the 200 - 220 newspapers had their own individual owners (with very few exceptions). Since then, there has been a strong concentration of ownership.
Throughout most of the 20th century, Aftenposten was the largest selling newspaper in Norway. It was established in 1860 by Christian Schibsted and, after his death in 1878, the paper was owned by his descendants. In 1968, a (then) small popular newspaper, Verdens Gang - VG, was taken over by the Schibsted family. Within 13 years, the circulation had increased by more than ten times and had it replaced Aftenposten as Norway’s largest newspaper. The Schibsted family company was transformed to a limited company and listed at the Oslo Stock Exchange in 1991. The Schibsted Group started to buy shares in other major newspapers and in 2008 the company took full control over three of the largest newspapers in Norway: Bergens Tidende, Stavanger Aftenblad and Fædrelansvennen. In addition Schibsted - along with its ally, the Swedish NWT group - controls, or at least has a strong influence over the third largest newspaper owner in Norway, Polaris Media.
Important newspapers owned by Schibsted:
- VG, national, popular newspaper, Oslo (a tradition as a non-party-political, non-socialist paper) - Circulation 2015: 113,000;
- Aftenposten, national and regional, Oslo (previously conservative) - Circulation 2015: 172,000;
- Bergens Tidende, regional, Bergen (previously liberal) - Circulation 2015: 59,000;
- Stavanger Aftenblad, regional, Stavanger (previously liberal) - Circulation 2015: 50,000;
- Fædrelandsvennen, regional, Kristiansand (previously liberal) - Circulation 2015: 30,000.
Important newspapers owned by Polaris:
- Adresseavisen; regional, Trondheim (previously conservative) - Circulation 2015: 58,000;
- Sunnmørsposten; local/regional, Ålesund (previously liberal) - Circulation 2015: 25,000.
From 1985 onwards there has been a strong concentration of ownership. One of Norway’s biggest businesses, Orkla (chemistry and consumer articles), started buying newspapers. In 2006 the group owned 29 local newspapers, then all the media activities were sold, the newspapers to the British Mecom Group (David Montgomery).
From the 1920s, the newspapers owned by local Labour party organisations and trade unions all over the country, have cooperated and from time to time acted as an informal corporation. A formal parent company was formed in 1990 and became owner of all the newspapers that belonged to the labour movement, with the exception of the party’s main newspaper, Arbeiderbladet (The Labour Newspaper), which changed name to the politically neutral Dagsavisen (The Daily Newspaper). Several other newspapers have also been bought. In 2011-2012 Mecom’s Norwegian newspapers were sold to A-pressen, which changed name to Amedia.
Important newspapers owned by Amedia:
- Romerikes Blad, local, Lillestrøm (previously Labour party) - Circulation 2015: 24,000;
- Drammes Tidende, local, Drammen (previously conservative) - Circulation 2015: 24,000.
Important newspapers owned by other groups:
- Dagens Næringsliv, national, financial, Oslo (non-party, liberalistic, owned by important businesses) - Circulation 2015: 57,000;
- Dagbladet, national, popular newspaper, Oslo (previously liberal, owned by Magazine publisher Allers) - Circulation 2015: 57,000;
- Klassekampen, national (politically radical, formerly Marxist-Leninist); Circulation 2015: 21,000;
- Vårt Land, national (politically independent, Christian, owned by Mentor Medier) - Circulation 2015: 21,000
- Dagsavisen, national/local, Oslo (previously Labour party, owned by Mentor Medier) - Circulation 2015: 21,000.
The three major newspaper owners are:
- Schibsted, which owns 16 newspapers, including the three largest in Norway. The group has a market share of 27 percent of the total national circulation. Schibsted has one major owner, Stiftelsen Tinius, a foundation created by Tinius Nagell-Erichsen in 1996 in order to secure independent journalism. Nagell-Erichsen was the only member of the Schibsted family who kept (and slightly increased) his shares in the company when it was introduced on the stock exchange. In addition to the founder’s 26 percent of the shares, only 15 percent is owned by Norwegian shareholders. International financial investors (banks, pension funds, etc.) dominate among the shareholders.
- Amedia is the second largest newspaper owner. The group controls 62 newspapers with a combined market share of 24 percent. The newspapers are found all over the country. During the expansion of Amedia, the newspaper chain was owned mainly by Telenor (a Norwegian telecommunications conglomerate), the national organisation of trade unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge) and trade unions. In 2016 it was sold to a foundation established by surplus from bank savings all over Norway.
- With close links to Schibsted, Polaris Media is the third largest newspaper group. Polaris owns 30 newspapers with 10 percent of the total national circulation. The Polaris newspapers are located in central and northern Norway. Schibsted is the largest shareholder in Polaris (29 percent) and the Swedish NWT newspaper group has 26 percent. Schibsted and NWT usually cooperate and together they control Polaris.
Ownership of the remaining 120 newspapers (with 39 percent of the circulation) is divided; there are several small newspaper chains (like Mentor Medier, Agderposten Medier, etc.), but many newspapers have their own, local owners.