When your average German wants to know what the latest news is,
rather than jog down the strasse to his local uber-newsagent or switch
on the fernsehen (telly, in case you didn’t know), he is more likely to
surf the Internet.
There are now more than 110 German newspapers online, and Germans have
truly got the surfing habit. Browsing through an electronic newspaper is
almost as natural for them as, say, watching News at Ten is for us or
flicking through the office copy of the Sun. Such is the demand for
online publications in Germany, in fact, that the number of newspaper
Websites doubled in the 12 months to September 1997 and estimates
suggest that soon there will scarcely be a publisher not represented on
the Internet in some form.
The driving force behind this proliferation of online activity is the
German media barons’ determination to prove newspapers can remain the
first source of information in the new-media age. To do this, however,
they need to secure future readers, and they see the Internet as a way
of winning over young people to their core, hard copy publications.
Stefan H. Seelen, the marketing manager of the Berlin-based Die Welt,
comments: ’The primary reason for most paper Websites is to win new,
young readers over to the papers. News-papers have a general problem in
addressing the younger generation and they are tackling this in various
ways. Some are launching print supplements specifically for teenagers or
are introducing editorial on trendy topics such as media and
advertising, but Websites are another way of winning back young
Aside from this, however, the print giants are also exploiting the fact
that Germany is generally more ’plugged in’ than the rest of Europe,
with the exception of Scandinavia. PC penetration and Net connections
are extremely high across the country, making the Internet and its
services a part of everyday life.
A study carried out by a German market researcher in February 1998 found
there were five million Net users in Germany, with ten million capable
of accessing the World Wide Web. A separate study, by the Cologne-based
economic research institute, IW, discovered that the number of Internet
connections increased by 72 per cent in the 12 months to the end of
1996, a rate of growth that far exceeds the rest of Europe.
David McMurtrie, the director of international media at MediaCom, points
out another reason for the success of German online newspapers. ’Germany
has always been a very strong print market, so it is a natural extension
that people would look at well-established print brand-names on the
Internet,’ he says. While he admits the UK has a similarly strong print
tradition, online services have not taken off to the same degree
The Electronic Telegraph, which was the first to launch in 1995, has
since been followed by online versions of the Times/Sunday Times, the
Financial Times, the Guardian and the Independent, but few of the
tabloids have Websites and the number of hits each site commands is not
particularly high. The most successful online paper - the Electronic
Telegraph - has around 1.25 million users per month, but ’users’ are not
necessarily separate individuals so the figure looks flatteringly high.
The number also dwindles to only 156,000 users for the FT site.
Competition from other media is also particularly fierce in Germany -
another reason that the nation’s print market pursues such protective
measures. For example, multichannel TV has exploded in Germany over the
past ten years. Numerous private channels have launched, while last
October digital TV hit the country via the cable network, courtesy of
the German phone giant, Deutsche Telekom AG.
Figures show that in 1982, TV reaped 11 per cent of total advertising
expenditure in Germany, but this had risen to 24 per cent by 1996 and is
still rising today. By comparison, newspapers accounted for 48 per cent
of total revenue in 1982, rising to 54 per cent in the early 90s, but
that figure has slumped back to 48 per cent now.
Another factor driving the German online media market is the need to
protect classified advertising revenue streams. Most of the German
newspapers are regional titles or ’super regionals’ and are heavily
reliant on classified advertising. Unfortunately for them, the Net is
proving to be increasingly attractive to classified advertising.
This situation contrasts with the British market, where most of the
major titles are national and derive larger portions of their revenue
from display advertising.
McMurtrie comments: ’German print owners need to get on to the Internet
before they lose out, particularly in the area of classified
advertising, because in the future the Internet will be the main arena
Die Welt’s Seelen denies this is much of a motivation at this stage, and
claims the Internet is still far from becoming the leading medium for
most classified sectors. ’The time when people are going to look on the
Internet for a three-room flat is not yet with us. The market demand is
not there yet, although job advertising is the classified advertising
sector which is most suited to the Net,’ he says.
Despite the fact that every major German publication now has an online
presence, observers suggest that none are making money, adding that the
development is a protective measure or an image-building activity aimed
at securing the long-term futures of the host print media.
Publishers also reveal that several of the newspaper Websites offer free
Internet space to advertisers that book ads in the print versions, once
again highlighting how no additional cash is being generated from the
sites. McMurtrie comments: ’I doubt if anyone is making money out of it
yet. It is largely being done to protect the print markets.’
Frank Meyer, unit director at HMS Carat in Hamburg, also believes the
media owners are exploring the Net purely as preparation for the future.
’All the newspapers are doing this as an investment. They cannot make
money out of this medium.
It is a new medium and they are investing in the newspaper of the
future,’ he says.
These sites may well become the ’newspapers of the future’, but the day
when the printed versions of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the
Handelsblatt or the Suddeutsche Zeitung are completely usurped by their
electronic counterparts remains far off. The German newspapers
themselves are making sure of that.