Q&A with Maria Hedengren, CEO of ‘all you can read’ magazine app ‘Readly’

We sat down with Maria Hedengren, CEO of ‘all you can read’ magazine app ‘Readly’, to discuss leading fast-paced growth companies, the pandemic’s impact on the publishing industry and the future of digital consumption.

  1.       Describe what your company does in 256 characters (a Tweet’s length)

Readly is a digital subscription service that lets customers have unlimited access to over 5,000 national and international magazines and newspapers – all in one app. Together with 900 publishers worldwide, Readly is digitizing the magazine industry.

  1.       How did you get involved in this industry?

I’ve spent more than 20 years leading companies whose success was driven by their ability to innovate and to scale internationally. I have always had a passion for innovation through data and there are also so many successful tech companies to be inspired by. 

I come from Sweden, where the tech and startup scene has been incredibly active and produced a number of unicorns over the past few years and I have been fortunate to be a part of a number of exciting fast-paced growth companies and success stories. I’m propelled by an ever-changing world and the opportunities that come with the needs or challenges that arise as a result of it. That is what I enjoy most about the tech industry.

Readly is a fast-growing company looking to transform an estimated $60 billion industry that up until now has undergone limited digitalization compared to other entertainment industries such as music, movies and books – so it has been a great challenge and opportunity from the start. It’s been an incredible journey ever since I joined Readly as CEO in April 2019. One of several important milestones was listing Readly on the Stockholm Nasdaq stock exchange in September 2020 (here is a video of me ringing the bell!). There was so much teamwork and organisation that went into preparing for the listing and there was a great surge of energy and happiness when we finally got to ring that bell. Being one of few female CEOs of listed companies, especially in the tech business, made it an even more important day for me personally and it has enforced my determination to work towards and highlight the need for more women in tech and leading positions.

Another recent milestone was our acquisition of one of the biggest digital subscription providers in France, Toutabo. Through the acquisition, we established a leading position in France overnight and it strengthened our European category leadership. 

  1.       What made you think of the idea/what inspired you to create your technology?

The idea for Readly began by a pool in Cyprus in the spring of 2012 when Readly’s founder, Joel Wikell, was on vacation with his family. After reading the magazines he had brought with him over and over again, whilst the streaming music in his ears never ran dry, the idea of an app with unlimited access to digital magazines feeds was born. The first string of code was written later that same year by three developers in a small town called Växjö in the southern part of Sweden. Readly was launched the following year in 2013 in Sweden.

  1.       How is this going to benefit people/society?

For people that want to replace aimless scrolling, gain inspiration, have entertainment at their fingertips, as well as keep up-to-date with the latest news and trends, Readly is a must have. In partnership with publishers worldwide, Readly is democratizing access to quality journalism and content, and empowering readers to learn about important issues anytime and anywhere with easy access to their favorite magazines and topics. After all, it has never before been more important to have access to journalistic content to avoid the spread of “fake news”.

  1. What’s innovative about your company and technology?

Readly was among the first all-you-can-read digital subscription apps for magazines on the market and that of course has given us a great advantage. Creating a unique position for ourselves and being associated with other great Swedish subscription services and success stories, such as Spotify, is both an honor and a challenge! Our strength above all, is the breadth and depth of our content portfolio and the way we make it easy for users to discover relevant content. 

Two thirds of our subscribers say that they have started to read titles they’ve never read before and nearly half say they read titles they did not even know existed. That is definitely how we create value for both our readers and publishers.

As a global platform we also generate a lot of data. As publishers become more and more data driven we truly stand out as a partner who not only adds reach to publications but also contributes with insights from 40 billion data points and growing. 

  1. How, in your opinion, has your industry changed in the past 5 years?

We have seen a gradual decline of print sales in the publishing industry for a number of years but the Covid pandemic was a very difficult time for many in the industry. The importance of finding new revenue streams and insights into subscriber consumption became more acute. The result was that the digital consumption of magazines has seen a faster rate of increase than what was already prognosed. 

Despite declining print sales, there is no doubt that magazines are still extremely popular. A testimony to this is that the total global magazine industry is worth 60 billion USD, which is three times as big as the music industry. The interest in digital magazines is on the rise and we’re seeing more and more publishers focusing on the digital route to reach a larger audience. 

Evolving consumer tastes, fragmented media consumption and tighter competition for audience time makes it challenging to keep customers loyal to a title. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, the way consumers read has changed over the past 10 years. They no longer just read one source of news or entertainment, they read many. Some people snack-read and they dip in and out of different titles, while we also see a large audience with special interests who invest a lot of time in exploring content and titles across the platform in pursuit of nurturing their passion. 

  1. What has COVID done to your company/industry? Has it been affected? Does your solution assist with the pandemic?

At Readly we saw an increase in app downloads especially during periods of lock-down in various countries. I believe the increased usage of Readly indicated a growing need for both news and entertainment but also inspiration and distraction. Many of our thousands of titles bring a sought-after break from what we are witnessing around the globe and we hope they can empower people to stay positive as we overcome this massive challenge. We also saw clear peaks in interests in, for example, gardening articles and titles, and DIY themes during these times, as people stayed home and focused on their surroundings. 

The global crisis caused by COVID-19 has hit the publishing industry, like many others. I think that the trend we have seen in recent years from print to digital consumption of magazine content will continue and probably at an accelerated pace following COVID-19 pandemic. 

From Readly’s side we are continuing to work with our publishers to assist them in diversifying their revenue streams, increase their digital circulation and presence, and become more data-driven in their work. A pervasive keyword is to increase engagement among new and existing subscribers. With our 40 bn data points we are in a fortunate position to be able to assist the industry with very deep and broad insights to further develop their content and reach a greater audience. 

There will be a continued widespread resistance to fake news and an ever-increasing appreciation of verified journalism and accountable editors. As such the habits of readers are evolving and there is an increasing appetite for digital subscriptions in not only music and mobile content but also newspapers and magazines. 

  1. Describe the future of your industry. What does the future hold? What is society going to look like?

The magazine publishing industry is accelerating the shift from print to digital, driven by new digital consumer habits. We expect the digital penetration of magazines to reach that of other media verticals eventually, such as music and film. Readly will continue to support the digital magazine transformation, across the globe. Our focus going forward is to keep growing both in our current markets through a continued increase in the number of subscribers, as well as entering new markets and adding even more inspiring, engaging, and entertaining content to our platform.

  1. What plans do you have coming up?

We believe in empowering our readers to become educated, engaged, and entertained. Through the depth and breadth of our content, in combination with how we make relevant content easy to discover, we can ensure that every time you use Readly, you get that true value from having unlimited access to the thousands of magazines that are on our platform.

Lately we’ve grown our portfolio of newspapers and we are currently looking at how we can further diversify the Readly reading experience through, for example, our article feed and more content recommendations and curations overall. This user-value focus is essentially how we bring value to our publishing partners as they can reach a global, digital audience that otherwise might not have discovered new titles. 

With the acquisition of Toutabo, we are looking forward to working with new publishers and partners on that market and developing the digital magazine and newspaper offer to French subscribers.

Maria Hedengren joined Readly as CEO in spring 2019, bringing more than 20 years of experience from global finance and business management. Maria has led both private and public technology companies and has a proven track record of scaling companies internationally. Readly | All magazines – one magazine app subscription