CAMPAIGN REPORT IN GERMANY: Germany welcomes news online. With the number of Internet users in Germany at five million, newspapers have rushed to embrace interactive publishing. Report by Belinda Archer

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.

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

for classified.’

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.


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