Heinrich Bauer is an ostensibly powerful but noticeably silent
force in the European magazine market. Although undeniably influential
in terms of circulation - accounting for almost a third of the consumer
magazines sold in Germany, for example - Bauer appears to have nowhere
near the clout or presence of its big European rivals.
The reason, say its critics, is the reticence it has shown in breaking
out of its comfortable domination of the German women’s magazine and TV
listings market. Here, it accounts for just less than half of total
sales, but despite this dominance, Bauer takes second place to
Bertelsmann’s Gruner & Jahr in advertising revenue terms. And in Europe,
Bauer is even smaller fry. According to Zenith’s report on the 50 top
European media owners, it stands eighth in the media revenue rankings
after the likes of Reed Elsevier, Bertelsmann, Axel Springer and United
News & Media.
Yet this secretive, conservative, Hamburg-based group has a venerable
history in the publishing game. Founded in 1875 by Johanne Andreas
Ludolf Bauer, as a printer of ornately designed calling cards, it
expanded into regional free sheets in the late 1890s. By the time two
world wars had come and gone, however, Bauer had left news-papers behind
and begun to settle into its current niche - the low-priced, mass market
end of magazine publishing.
It was a formula that Bauer first brought to the UK in 1987, when -
along with the appearance of fellow German publisher, Gruner & Jahr -
the group helped shake up radically the weeklies market, challenging the
success of IPC which was, until then, unassailable in the same
Indeed, Bauer still has designs on the UK market, as shown by its
last-minute bid for IPC last year. Bauer’s offer was referred to the
Office of Fair Trading but, before it went any further, the German
publisher was pipped to the post by the venture capital company, CinVen,
which backed a management buyout.
Bauer obviously has cash to spare; a company spokesman has told
Campaign: ’If further opportunities for international engagement present
themselves in the future, we will most certainly examine these very
carefully.’ But if the company is interested in any magazine or company,
it is equally adamant that it would never buy into anything unless it
could be owned wholly.
According to the Bauer spokesman: ’We prefer to be alone in the house,
bear all responsibility and risks ourselves and also enjoy our successes
However, when it comes to media outside magazines, Bauer is not a total
control freak. It has taken tentative steps into such areas as
television and radio such as its 32 per cent stake in the private TV
station, RTL2, sharing ownership with CLT and TeleMun-chen. It also owns
a significant chunk of the north German pop music station, Radio Ham-
burg, and just less than half of the film and TV production company,
Bauer has also sought to exploit the success of its magazines through
online initiatives, launching interactive sites for Autozeitung, Kochen
& Geniessen, TV Movie, Selbst ist der Mann, Bauidee, Praline and
On the print front, it has been more adventurous, expanding into France,
Spain, the US, Hungary and Poland as well as the UK. It stepped up its
presence in Poland last September by establishing a printing plant in
Ciechanow for its 12 Polish titles as well as its Czech and Hungarian
magazines. Bauer is also keen to print other publishers’ magazines from
At home, although Bauer is the major player in consumer magazines, it is
facing a tough market for its weekly programme guides as fortnightly
titles increase in popularity. During 1996 Bauer was also forced into a
price war sparked by Gruner & Jahr’s price reduction on TV Today. The
experience caused Bauer to lose three percentage points off its share of
the listings market to 48 per cent and resulted in a dip in its
circulation revenue through reduced cover prices.
One long-cherished ambition Bauer has yet to realise is a launch into
the lucrative and prestigious news magazine market. The essentially
regional nature of most German newspapers means that this sector is
where the real influence in the country lies, and Bauer has been seeking
to break into news weeklies since 1994.
That was the year it announced the launch of a title called Feuer.
However, the launch was delayed and, by February 1996, Bauer, which had
spent millions of pounds developing the title - now called Ergo -
decided that the market was beyond its reach.
Established players such as Der Spiegel and Focus were performing too
well and could not be shouldered aside. This year Bauer finally dipped a
toe into financial waters with a new, accessible fortnightly business
magazine, GELDidee. However, news and current affairs are currently off
As far as future plans go, there are no surprises in store. Bauer will
continue to concentrate on its core competencies of TV listings, women’s
and youth magazines.