Politics & Media
Aug 15, 2008, 12:27PM

A Magical Land Where Newspapers Make Money

German print newsrooms are a stark contrast to their depressing American counterparts. Editors are happy, publishers are making money, and reporters aren't constantly shopping for new  careers. The diffference, according to this writer, is a more competative business environment that encouraged risk taking and adaptation before the Internet got a chance to ruin anything.

Here's a scene you don't see at many U.S. papers these days. The publisher settles into his office sofa, glances over his shoulder at the bustling metropolis below, and says casually: "We're doing good!"

True, there are definitely some aspects of the business model at Bild, a Berlin daily with 12 million readers, that might not fly in the U.S. (the photos of nude women on page 1, for example). Still, it's worth asking publisher Kai Diekmann how, when U.S. newspaper revenue is going off a cliff, Europe's largest paper managed to have its most profitable year ever in 2007.

It's not as if Bild hasn't been hit by the same problems as U.S. papers, including advertisers lost to the Web. So it's tempting to credit Bild's double-digit profit margin solely to sensationalism. The day I met Diekmann, Bild's lead story concerned managers of public health-insurance funds helping themselves to free Viagra. One of the top online stories asked: "Which female celebrity has the nicest breasts?"

I suspect the real reason German papers still thrive is their embrace of competition. Unlike so many U.S. papers, Bild was never part of a quasi-monopoly that allowed complacency. It's telling that Bild doesn't deliver —it depends on newsstand sales. "Bild has to prove itself at the kiosk every day," says Deputy Editor-in-Chief Michael Paustian.

That pressure helped Bild maintain its focus on original content. It uses almost no wire copy and brags that every story is an exclusive. Even during the crisis years, Bild kept its 800-strong editorial staff intact. What advice does Diekmann have for American newspapers? "It's too late."


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