Young people don't read traditional media, but could Squid lure them back?

Younger people tend to think traditional media outlets are aimed at their parents. Squid aims to change that.

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Squid learns a user's preferences and adapts to them, offering a huge amount of fast-changing, targeted content.

Image: Squid

It's fair to say the media, from newspapers to news sites through myriad other delivery mechanisms, is obsessed with the younger audience.

That obsession is especially true of traditional media such as newspapers, but applies just as much to newer forms of publishing.

The media is a much surveyed area, and all the evidence says young people don't spend much if any time reading newspapers. So can traditional media outlets do anything to change this situation? Perhaps they can at least try.

Squid is a new site set up by people who believe that the answer to this issue can be summed up in one word: speed.

Their logic is young people today have neither the time nor the patience to waste on traditional media. When it comes to news, they want it fast and in a format that lets them devour it in seconds, not minutes. Squid is predicated on that idea. It offers a huge variety of targeted content by learning a user's preferences and adapting to them.

We talked to Squid's youthful CEO, Johan Othelius, to find out how they do this.

Q: How did you get started?

A: I studied at the Stockholm School of Economics and then at McGill University, and the University of Southern California, Annenberg School of Commerce. I was always interested in marketing and social technology from the very start.

I started work Unilever in the marketing department and I got to work in Italy where I got an international flavour which, again, was mainly focused on marketing and technology.

Then I joined a startup, and it was there that I really got into the technology. At that time, we were launching what were, pretty much, the first mobile internet services.

That was when WAP was introduced. That was the first mobile internet protocol so we were launching pretty much the first mobile content services. This was before the smartphone, around 2000, and since then I have always been in mobile internet content.

Then we merged with a Silicon Valley company who were the pioneers of mobile internet and we did the browsers and smartphones and also the infrastructure for the operator.

When did you launch Squid?

That was a year ago and we launched in Italy, France and Poland. Then we added Germany, the UK and Spain. More recently we launched in the Netherlands and Russia. We are in the seven biggest countries in Europe. Just before Christmas we launched in Australia followed by Austria in January.

Where did the idea for the company come from?

I've been interested in this area since 2000 and I've been working in the mobile and the news media. This seemed a way of combining the two.

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Squid CEO Johan Othelius: "We're really contributing to the whole ecosystem, driving young readers to blogs and sites."

Image: Squid

There were three main reasons for getting into it.

First, we are very focused on young people -- and we hadn't seen anybody getting really focused on young people.

We could see that young people were less active in their use of media. They're reading less. They were finding it so hard to find interesting media. I have three daughters and they seemed much less interested in the media than I had been at their age.

I had done a lot of research around this issue and could see that all the big media sites were very popular and strong with adults -- the 40- to 60-year-olds -- but they didn't attract the younger readers and viewers.

Even if we had what we thought were good things, even if we wrote about young things, they didn't expect to find things that interested them in the more established media. I could see there was a gap there. A way to help young people find young things.

The second part also had a strong media component. It was harder for the media to find them. They had no advertising budget for content for young people. So in this aspect, there was a market in driving young readers to the big media and in helping the media find that young audience. And then by doing this we felt that we could also help society.

But the big thing was the media. They need young readers and we felt we could guide young readers to journalistic sites that would appeal to them.

The aim was that instead of social media, where you read about your friends, young readers could find the sites that would give them content aimed at them written by real journalists.

And we've had a great response. A lot of the media want to help us. They want to be more involved and to get their content into our app. We get several emails a day from media we didn't know about. They want to be part of Squid too because it's been recommended to them by people and friends.

We're really contributing to the whole ecosystem driving young readers to blogs and sites.

And even where there are a lot of sites, aggregators and so on, we seem unique with our focus on young people. We don't see people who do that. And young people really like it.

If you think about it, when I grew up we had printed newspapers at home. I would read the comic strips at the back of them. Then I'd read several newspapers before I'd then get into the sport. And at that time, I was really interested in reading about what was going on in other countries. All of that was easily available.

But now, they have Instagram and Snapchat and so on and they're not reading printed newspapers. There are articles in Facebook but that's being reduced. Young people aren't in love with Facebook anymore.

So the important goal here is to, in a very easy way, get young people to start reading about something.

And then we see that they add topic after topic and in the end they get a really good combination of things that are important for them. It seems like it works. We get good ratings in Google Play. I think now we have more than 5,000 ratings.

So young people don't see the media as being relevant to them?

That's right but it's all been difficult. One of the largest newspapers in the Nordics launched an initiative aimed at gaming and so on for young people. But young people did not read it because they assumed it would not be relevant for them.

Now, if the media does that it will show up in the gaming feeds.

Today young people don't want to have to search around to find things. But with us, it's much easier to say what you're interested in, and then we can give them the relevant stuff.

If you compare us with Facebook, there you can get into a kind of a bubble where if you click on certain things, you get exactly the same things. With us, if you are interested in a certain area we make sure you get the view from both sides because we take from as many sources as we can.

How many people do you have working there?

There are 15 of us. Development is in Sweden, but we consider ourselves to be truly European and have a country manager for every country. We also have five to 10 students -- we call them students but really they're ambassadors -- working in each country, which adds up to 40 people or so who work part time.

We believe in continuous communication, so even if you're only one or two people in a country we have a meeting everyday over WhatsApp.

You're ambitious but are you growing quickly?

Yes and we think we've got a good model. The average staff age is 26 years and so they're all young and energetic and usually they will speak three languages or more.

We are growing between 10 and 15 percent each month.

What's the financial model? Is it based on subscriptions?

It's an advertising or freemium model [where the service is free but a premium is charged for additional features, services or virtual goods]. So to start with it is advertising but it's premium advertising because each of our users says what they're interested in.

And in the future it will be a premium model where there will be no ads and some extra benefits.

Where did the idea of a news site for young people come from?

We did some surveys and most young people said they were not interested in news, so we thought, "That's great. Let's launch a news service."

Looking at it more closely we thought, well maybe people aren't interested in accidents and politics, traditional, old-fashioned news. But they all have interests, whether it's football or fashion or any of many others. There's news within those interests.

So, when we dug a bit deeper we could see that maybe they were interested in what we can call traditional news. Some people are interested in the feminist movements, so we could do a topic on that and one on the environment and another on vegetarianism.

Then some people are interested in football, and so we can do a channel on that and then channels on particular teams. Very quickly people will come up with a news service that is tailored to them and that, fundamentally, is the purpose of Squid, to come up with everybody's personal news service.

One big difference is that with traditional news sites the news changes slowly. With Squid, come back in an hour and it will be completely different. It will still be your news for you but it will be different.

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