CAMPAIGN REPORT ON GERMANY: How STERN climbed aboard the Internet

By STEVE SHIPSIDE,, Friday, 18 April 1997 12:00AM

Stern’s Website operates as a personalised news service, e-mailing users with information tailored to individual requirements. By Steve Shipside.

Stern’s Website operates as a personalised news service, e-mailing

users with information tailored to individual requirements. By Steve


The magazine, Stern, was always popular at school. Not so much because

of any enthusiasm for modern languages, but more because, along with

Paris Match, it was the best chance of a glimpse of nipple this side of

National Geographic. Outside British schools, its blend of populist

journalism, TV coverage and personality articles plus the odd areola -

has made it one of the most popular leisure titles in Europe, with

around 8 million readers.

Stern On-Line takes that winning formula on to the Internet, re-focusing

the magazine’s content by using a range of technologies to convey the

freshness and elan of the original. Clever use of Java applets,

intelligent agents, animations and e-mail mailing lists have helped to

build it into one of Germany’s three most-visited Net sites.

’It is hard to compare traffic with precision,’ Ulrich Hegge, the

managing director of Stern On-Line, comments, ’because everyone measures

traffic in different ways.

But we have 170,000 to 180,000 visitors every month looking at 700,000

pages. I should point out that, being German, those figures are very


Much of the reason for that success is that Stern did not set out merely

to establish a Web presence. The aim was to add value for readers and

advertisers. ’We offer two principal services,’ Hegge explains. ’First,

we have access to our archives - that’s done directly by linking the Web

server to the archive servers on our own system. For full text retrieval

from the complete archives we charge a fee, because the users are mainly

media professionals, but the Web service allows people comprehensive

access to recent issues. It works as a taster and leads to a lot of

customers signing up for the full service.

’The second service we created was the TV Agent. You type in the name of

an actor or actress you like, or your particular hobby or interest, and

the search engine checks the Web for information on them,’ Hegge


In addition, an e-mail back service will read the TV listings each week

and check for the names you’ve specified. Tell it that you’ve got the

hots for Michelle Pfeiffer, for example, and it will e-mail you in the

morning to say she’s in a film that evening, along with the time and


It’s such a popular service that Hegge has extended it. ’You can create

a profile by a simple keyword, or you can generate a more complete

profile saying what channels you get, what time you watch, and so on,’

he says.

The benefits are twofold. For the reader, the e-mail reminders are

relevant and timely, while the magazine and its advertisers get

increasingly detailed information about readers’ tastes. ’We offer

something to the readers, but we also get data on what interests them,’

Hegge adds. Customer profiles are held anonymously to ensure the

confidence of subscribers, so readers don’t have to be bashful about

declaring their undying admiration for the Teutonic equivalent of

Vanessa Feltz.

’Advertisers are very interested in what we’re doing, and we have

followed it up with services such as the personalised home page,’ Hegge

says. ’This is very close to the idea of a ’Daily me’ news service. You

choose the content you want to see - which also tells us what people are

interested in - and we build up a page to suit them. We also have e-mail

newsletters on fitness, travel, business, finance and computer news.

Because of the data we can provide on our readership, we find that

advertisers are much more willing to book space.’

Stern On-Line doesn’t just generate revenue for its paper sibling - it

also takes ads directly. ’We have about 120 companies that regularly

place ads on the site - usually German companies, like Siemens Nixdorf.

Ad revenues are still small compared with the magazine, but last year we

generated DM500,000 (around pounds 184,000) - not bad considering our

production costs are pretty low,’ Hegge claims.

There have been a couple of surprises for the publishers. ’We expected

our NetScan page to be a real hit. It is a thoroughly researched guide

to the Net and it’s updated weekly. We fully expected it to be the

number-one seller. Instead we found that excerpts from the magazine were

most in demand. Stern is an illustrated magazine, so the online version

with small photos and lots of text isn’t really in the spirit of the


The pictures, incidentally, aren’t just small to allow rapid loading.

’We would like to have much better quality pictures online, but it’s not

possible. Our photographers demand a lot of money for electronic rights,

so the problem is not just technical but financial,’ Hegge explains.

To compensate for the low level of graphics, the Stern team have raided

the online gadgets box.

Animations in ShockWave (software which allows fluid character

animations and can be downloaded quickly) bring sound and movement to

games pages and interactive promotions such as the ’Johnny Walker quest

for the end of the Net’.

Extensive use of Java (a programming language which enables applets and

full animations which run locally) enables ticker-tape style banner ads,

as well as the ’cockpit’ navigational device.

It makes for a lively site, but Hegge admits it is a hefty lump to

download and there are plans to slim it down. There are also plans for a

general facelift in about six weeks, as part of the policy of

maintaining its lead in the German market.

And the nipples? Well, schoolboys of every age will be reassured to know

that does include an Erotika page with hot links to such

delights as Naomi Campbell’s world of sensuality. New technology, new

media, new possibilities, but it’s nice to know some things never


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