Business Leader Q&A recently caught up with Maria Hedengren, the CEO of Readly – a digital magazine subscription service – and one of Europe’s fastest-growing businesses. Hedengren spoke to BL about the rapid rise of the firm and how it achieved its exponential success.
Can you give me an overview of Readly?
Readly is a Swedish tech company that has digitised magazines since its launch in 2013. We have rapidly grown to one of the European category leaders in digital magazine subscriptions. As more and more people turn to the digital subscription format for media consumption – our “all-you-can-read” offer is increasingly popular.
Through Readly you get access to 5,000 national and international magazines in one app – during 2019 alone, 83 million magazines were read on our platform.
Our core markets are Sweden, the United Kingdom and Germany. We are also active in Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United States, Australia, Ireland and Italy and available in 50 markets in total.
You were recently recognised as one of the fastest-growing companies in Europe – what do you put this down to?
We’re delighted to have been featured on the Financial Times list of fastest-growing companies, two years in a row. We have a scalable model that really works and a passionate and agile team behind it. Readly is often described as the Spotify of magazines – and I believe our “all-you-can-read” model appeals very much to consumers today. With a plethora of fake news out there – Readly also offers quality content from trusted sources – something that is becoming increasingly important to readers.
In addition to that, we’re working in a sector primed for great growth. Looking at the size of the magazine industry as a whole, it is today worth $73bn – almost four times the size of the music industry. We are in the early phase of the same shift in consumption behaviors that the music industry experienced some years ago – leaving a huge potential for Readly now and in the coming years.
What challenges have you had to overcome to achieve this success?
We have seen print revenues declining and an increase in digital, but the full digitalisation still awaits us. Digital was previously seen as a challenge to print, but we’re now seeing many publishers that have come far in exploring the digital opportunities such as optimising readership and ad revenues through data insights.
The digital consumption behaviour is also constantly evolving. The “all-you-can-read” subscription model for a fixed fee has gone from low awareness to become increasingly the standard form for digital media consumption – when you think of the likes of Spotify and Netflix. In terms of digital magazine consumer behaviour we are still in the early stages of this adoption and see great potential in its evolution.
Consumers are spending an increasing amount of time on their mobile to find content. Many agree with our view that the market shows great growth potential for this type of service – not least Apple who launched their magazine service not too long ago.
How would you describe the growth of the company?
It has been very swift! From a small startup founded in Växjö in Sweden to a proven scaleup. Readly is today one of the leading companies in digital magazine subscriptions in Europe. In collaboration with publishers worldwide, Readly is digitising the magazine industry.
2018 was a record year for us with revenue up by 54% to £17m in 2018 from £11m the year before. During 2019 we saw a double-digit percentage increase of issues read in our key markets, with 83 million issues read globally, and about 2,000 magazine titles added to our platform.
How has the company achieved international success?
In Readly’s case the key to success has been the understanding of what makes a great digital product experience for magazine readers, combined with close collaboration with publishers. Collaborative success and building shared value is important.
Even though we call ourselves a scale-up with a proven business model and significant revenue growth, we have retained a good portion of our start-up spirit. Everyone in the team plays an equally important role – regardless of hierarchical position in the organisation. This leads to a trustful corporate culture – for me the key to success in today’s working world.
Our portfolio of thousands of national and international magazines is a third success factor. We have content for every taste and occasion. And we also make magazines available cross borders.
What advice would you give a company looking to achieve exponential growth?
I have a long track record of working for companies in rapid international growth with the ability to quickly adapt and capture new digital consumer patterns. I always strive to have my team built up by people with greater expertise than I have and to encourage non-hierarchical communication and collaboration across teams, taking decisions where it matters. That is the first step to a decentralised organisation and makes me confident that we can unleash the power of a team.
Swedish companies are sometimes criticised for being too consensus-driven and we are largely known for being less hierarchical. This typical Swedish approach might, however, be one of the reasons why our country has been the breeding ground for hugely successful tech stars such as Spotify, King, iZettle and Mojang. To empower every employee is to fully empower the company.
What are the future plans for the company?
The magazine publishing industry is only just starting to move from offline to online, and we expect the digital penetration of magazines to reach that of other media verticals, such as music and film.
Readly will continue to lead the digital magazine transformation in our core markets as well as through expansion in new geographies and beyond. Our focus going forward is to keep growing through a continued increase in the number of subscribers, adding even more inspiring, engaging and entertaining content to our platform, as well as educating the market about digital reading.