INTERNATIONAL: Medium of the month

Jochen Rang is impressed by how well Focus has gauged its readers

Jochen Rang is impressed by how well Focus has gauged its readers

In January 1993, Focus was launched to try to do what no-one had done in

40 years - topple Der Spiegel’s stranglehold on the German weekly news

magazine market.

Three-and-a-half-years later, it is a widely acknowledged success, now

selling more advertising than its rival, and proving, after four decades

of Der Spiegel, that there is room for two news magazines in Germany.

Before Focus, Der Spiegel was the only weekly in the country, and

although over the years, 54 other titles had launched a challenge, none

had lasted.

Famous for its in-depth, intelligent writing, which at times toppled

ministers and revealed scandals in every part of German life, Der

Spiegel had become an institution.

Until Burda, Germany’s third-largest publisher, launched Focus. Burda, a

group which built its reputation on women’s magazines, was determined to

do things properly, and although Focus started with a fairly modest

circulation of 400,000 copies, compared with Der Spiegel’s 1.2 million,

it was backed by a massive dollars 19 million ad campaign.

At first, predictions were mixed about whether it would succeed. But it

became apparent that Focus had hit the right note for modern Germany.

Created as a response to the information overload, it aimed to appeal to

readers with shorter, punchier stories than its rival, each with colour


It worked. But although Focus’s arrival nibbled away at Der Spiegel’s

circulation, which fell slightly to 1.1 million copies, the real losers

were general interest magazines, such as Stern or Burda’s own Bunte.

Although every article is well researched and Focus has had notable

successes in breaking good news stories, its writing often lacks the

biting cynicism so famous and entertaining to read in Der Spiegel.

However, its non-partisan political stance, compared with Der Spiegel’s

left and liberal orientation, has won it some readers. Perhaps the most

famous of these is Germany’s Chancellor Kohl, who admits to reading

Focus occasionally, whereas he completely ignores Der Spiegel.

I admire Focus because it has successfully boosted the weekly market -

so important in Germany where national newspapers are not so strong -

and also because it knows how to talk to the modern, fast-moving

generation. But I admire Der Spiegel too, because it has stayed true to

itself, and has not changed in the face of competition.

Jochen Rang is the chief operating officer of Campus, an international

grouping of agencies owned or part-owned by Havas

Focus on focus

Focus is now in its fourth year, and is clearly one of the backbones of

Burda publishing.

Circulation 782,053

Subscriptions 277,283

Reach 8.2 per cent of total population, 31.3 per cent of household

income above pounds 15,000 pa.

Der Spiegel circulation 1.1 million.