Twenty-three years ago, German publishers feared the rise of TV ownership would lead to a dramatic decline of their profitable print business. But fast-forward through a flurry of print launches in the 90s and we find that, today, despite the massive popularity of TV, print is still the dominant medium.
Daily newspapers account for a leading 22 per cent of the EUR20.8 billion ad market, according to 2007 figures from the German advertising association ZAW. Freesheets rank fourth with 10 per cent and magazines have a 9 per cent share. TV is the second-biggest ad carrier, with a 20 per cent share. And the new bogeyman, online, takes just 3 per cent of adspend - though that figure rose 39.2 per cent from the previous year.
"Historically, Germany is the country with the most magazine titles in the world. The printed word is part of our culture," Mathias Jahn, the executive creative director at DraftFCB Hamburg, says.
The market supports 376 daily and 27 weekly newspapers, 902 magazines and 1,172 specialist magazines. It sounds robust enough, but the dailies have dropped by 11 per cent in circulation during the past five years, and magazines circulation has dropped by 5 per cent over the same time.
"About 45 per cent of total adspend is invested in around 1,700 newspapers/giveaways and around 4,700 magazines, including trade publications. For decades, the print market has shown an intense regional and local pattern," Juergen Blomenkamp, the chief executive of Group M, Germany, says. "When you stand at a newsstand, you are wondering: 'Who is buying and reading all these magazines?' Many of them look so alike."
In fact, the future is not particularly rosy for publishers, which face serious problems on various sides. The big players in the German market are Axel Springer Verlag, which is based in Hamburg and Berlin; Heinrich Bauer Verlag and the Bertelsmann-owned Gruner & Jahr, both in Hamburg; Hubert Burda Media and Conde Nast, both in Munich; WAZ Group in Essen; and Holtzbrinck in Stuttgart.
First, there is the competition between publishers themselves. "With the launch of new magazines and daily or weekly papers, the market is more competitive than ever. The number of titles in the market has increased while circulation has dropped, and there have been considerable cutbacks in the past ten years," Blomenkamp says. A decade ago, the tabloid Bild-Zeitung sold more than four million copies. Its circulation is now down to 3.26 million, according to IVW, the German bureau of audit circulation.
Then there is the online threat. Although the web has not yet diverted much advertising away from print titles, it is the big dark cloud that all publishers fear. "The internet is the new hero for the young target group," Blomenkamp says. "Lots of young readers have gone, lost to the internet and electronic media. That diminution of young readers means a loss of 60 per cent of readers in ten years."
Most publishers have established their own websites, some of them with great success, and many are now adding video content.
In a 2006 report from TNS Emnid Media Research entitled The Future of Print in the Digital Age, 78 per cent of Germans sampled said that print dailies were a habit they cannot do without and a similar number (75 per cent) said they would continue to buy magazines. The vast majority (81 per cent) believed the traditional print media were not in danger, but 61 per cent had a more pessimistic view, namely that digital media would play a major role and may gradually replace print media in years to come. At that stage, two years ago, 32 per cent were already using the internet, instead of daily newspapers, for their daily news, although 75 per cent felt there was an overload of information and news.
The credit crunch is yet another problem for publishers. Many consumers feel they simply can't afford to buy magazines or daily papers any more, especially when they can get the information free online.
"Most publishers in Germany have been reacting very slowly and lacking in innovation," one media watcher notes. Sweeping changes are on their way, which will put small- and medium-sized publishing houses in peril, he predicts, leaving them vulnerable to takeover by bigger rivals.
"But despite the dark outlook, publishers have hardly developed new ad strategies," Uli Veigel, the chief executive of Grey Worldwide Germany, points out.
The main tactic has been to tempt consumers into buying subscriptions with the promise of a wide range of freebies. A vacuum cleaner, an iPod or a holiday to the Turkish Riviera are typical inducements; a "40 per cent price reduction plus gift" combo is the latest hit.
There have been some bright spots of print success in recent years, however. FAZ launched its Sunday edition Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in 2001 into a Sunday market dominated by rival Axel Springer's weeklies. FAS has grown steadily to a circulation of 325,924 in the first quarter of 2008, according to IVW figures.
There was also the truly innovative launch into the monthly magazine market in 2003 from Gruner & Jahr. NEON has no rival, in either print or TV. Created by two 30-year-old editors-in-chief, Michael Ebert and Timm Klotzek, it targets 20- to 35-year-old intellectuals. NEON has been growing steadily, reaching 213,226 copies in the second quarter of this year (IVW), a rise of 10.8 per cent on the same period in 2007.
Others look to cost-cutting. Heinrich Bauer has already axed its long-running title Revue and its TV magazine TV Life.
Meanwhile, its rival Hubert Burda Media announced on 8 July this year that it plans to slash costs in its print business by 10 per cent until the end of 2009. The reason cited was a decline in its core business. Its pilot of a green lifestyle title IVY was pulled after just two issues.
For all of Germany's strength in print, the digital age is here.
Vanity Fair arrived in Germany with a big bang on 7 February, 2007, in what was trumpeted as Conde Nast's biggest investment outside of the US.
The publisher surprised many when it decided to switch from Vanity Fair's usual monthly frequency and launch it into Germany's competitive weekly market.
The move pitched it against Hubert Burda Media's Bunte (circulation 718,576 in the first half of 2008, according to IVW) and Gruner & Jahr's Gala (circulation 376,285). It was a strategic shift for Vanity Fair that followed its debut as a weekly in Italy in 2003.
The editor-in-chief, Ulf Poschardt, and his 75 newly hired staff produced an impressive 328-page first issue with 128 ad pages from their trendy editorial office in Berlin's famous Unter den Linden.
A run of 500,000 issues was printed in two versions, with either a gold or black cover, and carrying the inscription "Vanity Fair EUR1 - The new magazine for Germany".
But a year and a half and an estimated $65 million later, its circulation has dwindled to 189,006 (IVW), despite a cheaper coverprice than rivals of EUR2. The first 26 issues of this year carried 704 pages of ads between them, mainly for fashion brands. In addition, Poschardt and other senior staff have left in recent months.
The Munich-based Conde Nast International has had a successful track record with other titles in Germany, such as Vogue and Glamour.
But, from the beginning, there were voices critical of Vanity Fair. Neue Zurcher Zeitung wrote that it was "disappointed" with the magazine, saying it looked old-fashioned and that the articles were "not breathtaking".
Currently, Conde Nast is continuing to back Vanity Fair with investment and marketing support. On 1 May, Nikolaus Albrecht, the previous editor-in-chief of sister title Glamour, was drafted in as Poschardt's replacement, and big efforts have been made to improve the magazine's online presence.
Customers are being lured to commit for a year with discounted subscription packages and free gift inducements, and Vanity Fair has been busily sponsoring the Berlin Mercedes-Benz Fashion Weeks. Yet observers say the exciting, well-written big stories are still missing.
Meanwhile, Conde Nast will this month launch a Spanish edition of Vanity Fair. It'll be a monthly.