CAMPAIGN REPORT: TOP EUROPEAN NEWSPAPERS - The main feature Supplements are falling out of favour as European papers try to win readers through feature content. By Richard Cook.

It used to be simple. The newspaper was there to convey the news. Information was king and a good story on the front page was worth thousands in sales terms. However, in today’s multimedia world the newspaper is no longer the first port of call for information junkies, and news is no longer the chief selling point for readers and advertisers alike. Across Europe papers are re-inventing themselves as one-stop specialists in areas previously dismissed as niche, or in special interest markets such as IT, sport and youth-oriented features.

It used to be simple. The newspaper was there to convey the news.

Information was king and a good story on the front page was worth

thousands in sales terms. However, in today’s multimedia world the

newspaper is no longer the first port of call for information junkies,

and news is no longer the chief selling point for readers and

advertisers alike. Across Europe papers are re-inventing themselves as

one-stop specialists in areas previously dismissed as niche, or in

special interest markets such as IT, sport and youth-oriented

features.



The experience of the Neue Westfalische Group of Germany is one that has

been repeated across Europe. Its four newspapers have a total

circulation of 270,000 and its flagship publication, the Neue

Westfalische, sells about 166,500. For years the title prospered on an

old-fashioned diet of news and a smattering of general interest

features, together with comprehensive general sports coverage. But that

recipe is no longer enough.



The title has been suffering from many of the same problems that are

afflicting the newspaper business in Germany, in particular, and in

large swathes of Europe in general. The main problem is decreasing

audience numbers. Five years ago Germany’s press market encompassed more

than 31 million paid-for copies. Sales have now dropped comfortably

below 30 million and they continue to fall, if slightly more slowly.



’What was happening to us was a combination of things,’ Wolfgang Geese,

the ad director at Neue Westfalische, explains. ’Our ad sales were

stagnating, we were suffering from price competition and consumers were

substituting papers based on the latest promotion or price point. It was

threatening our whole strategic position.’



His solution was to commission the most in-depth research his paper had

ever undertaken, designed both to quantify the links that readers have

with their paper and also to show advertisers the links they had with

the paper’s readership.



The idea was to identify the areas of overlap so that the editorial

features could be expanded and more closely reflect that connection,

while the same results and their editorial application could then form

the substance of some 1,200 customer presentations. Since the research

results were returned, features in the paper have now been

comprehensively remodelled, with the traditional women’s, IT and sports

sections given a much more local feel and vastly increased pagination,

while international features and political news have been trimmed.



Elsewhere the first recourse to this same problem has traditionally been

the magazine supplement. In Germany, the weekly paper, Die Zeit,

launched its own magazine back in 1970. The merits of this approach are

that they increase the circulation of the parent newspaper and are

attractive to advertisers because they offer an appropriate full-colour

ad opportunity.



The two largest and most prestigious of the German magazine supplements,

Die Zeit Magazin and Suddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, have nonetheless

struggled in recent years.



In 1997, for instance, DZ Magazin saw ad revenues fall by 2.3 per cent

on the previous year, while SZ Magazin’s revenues fell by 7 per cent in

the same period. In part this reflects the increasing choices now

available for advertisers, but it also follows on from this same loss of

readers.



In this respect too, there has been no hiding place since supplements

began to be audited separately in 1996.



The answer for some publishers has been in returning to first

principles. They’ve made the supplements far more tightly targeted, if

less lavishly produced, and in many cases taken them back within the

magazine to encourage trial among the readership, while keeping

additional production costs to a minimum.



That’s the case in Italy, where the country’s two leading titles,

Corriere della sera and La Repubblica, have gone even further toward

segmenting readership. They are competing to build their portfolio of

daily tabloid sections.



La Repubblica, for instance, now offers the youth title, Musikal, a

financial section, Affari e Finanza, a health and medical supplement,

Salute, an IT section, Computer Valley, and a travel and tourism

section, I Viaggi.



In Spain, the key to attracting this elusive younger audience is thought

to be more a question of presentation than of any real structural

change.



’Newspapers overall now need to be sensitive to stylistic changes

imposed by today’s omnipresent audio-visual culture,’ El Pais’s

associate editor, Angel Harguindey, says. His most striking solution is

the Friday supplement, Las Tentaciones. Written and designed from a

youth point of view, it is published in four different regional

editions.



Elsewhere in Europe, though, there is a feeling that it is no longer

enough simply to produce similar supplements to everybody else. Readers

don’t necessarily want to wade through ever thicker papers, only to feel

guilty if they don’t make it all the way through.



European editors who attended a summit on the subject last month,

organised by the World Association of Newspapers, were offered a

prescription for change based on the experience of the successful

Swedish paper, Sydsvenska Dagbladet. The editor-in-chief, Jan Wifstrand,

urged other papers to resist what he called the ’editor’s disease’ now

sweeping Europe; namely the urge to always want to do more, not

less.



’We have to do less of certain things, or readers won’t be able to stand

us for another 30 to 40 years,’ he warns. ’We should be providing less

passive repetition of facts and figures, less Monica Lewinsky, less

national affairs, and more of what’s going on ’closer in’ when we write

editorials in the paper.’



Whether his comments will be taken on board by Europe’s top publishers

and editors is another matter entirely but they do tally with the Neue

Westfalische research. Wifstrand also has one further powerfully

persuasive factor in his favour: since he instituted these changes,

sales of his paper are now outperforming Sweden’s sluggish newspaper

market.



And that’s the one language that all of Europe’s newspapers can really

understand.



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