No. 12 in a 67-part series: Germany – 11 failures

15uhrThe largest newspaper market in Europe has no free dailies. Not any more. In fact, the country was one the first with free newspapers, it saw a real free newspaper war, and has a history of 17 years of free dailies, ending in 2013.

15 Uhr Aktuell (15 Uhr Aktuell Verlag) started in Berlin on October 26, 1998; the Hamburg edition started April 19 1999; the Munich edition in the fall of 1999. All editions ended on February 22, 2000. Publishers accused Springer and other publishers to put pressure on banks not to loan more money to 15 Uhr Aktuell.
The Cologne newspaper war started when 20 Minuten (Schibsted) launched in Köln on December 13, 1999. On the same day Köln Extra (Alex Springer Verlag, Bild) entered the market while a third free paper Kölner Morgen from local publisher DuMont Schauberg (Express) was launched on February 11, 2000. Köln Extra and Kölner Morgen closed down when 20 Minuten left Cologne in July 2001.
As a result of a court order 20 Minuten suspended publication part of January and February – other publishers sued Schibsted because of unfair competition. In 2007, a higher court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) decided that they could not decide. Because 20 minuten was shut down the issue was resolved. A spokesman for Dumont explained that this means that “no publisher who wants to publish a free daily in Germany can be sure that the court will not stop them”.
The Extra-concept was later tested in Mainz as a compact paid newspaper, Der Spiegel launched the cheap tabloid Der Tag – ended April 1999. These experiments soon ended but other publishers embraced the compact paper. The compact concept is also used for cheap (50 eurocents) editions of Welt Kompakt (Axel Springer), News (Handelsblatt – until 2006) and Direkt from the DuMont Schauberg group (all in 2004). 20 Cent (Holtzbrinck Verlag) started earlier in Cotbus (later in Saarbrücken).
Travelers on first class DB trains are familiar with the compact free daily paper.
- Der Spiegel experimented with ICE-Press, a paper printed on the ICE-trains (November 1997 – April 30, 1999), this proved to be too costly in the end.
- Financial Times Deutschland (Pearson / Gruner + Jahr) launched FTD Kompakt (16 pages, one in English) in February for first class travellers in ICE trains. It closed in 2006. In 2008 G + J bought all the shares of FTD.
- In first class trains and the business class of the Lufthansa flights passengers get a special free Handelsblat edition: Handelsblatt News am Abend. The paper moved in 2007 to competitor Air Berlin. The paper closed in of 2009.
- October 2006, Deutsche Sportverlag (DSV) and airline Lufthansa launched Die Sportzeitung, a free daily devoted to sports and available every day from 5:30 on in 12 German airports. Die Sportzeitung tested paid distribution through kiosks from 2007 on for 90ct in a limited number of places. In April 2007 the paper closed down.
- In January 2007 business class Lufthansa travelers got Süddeutsche Zeitung Primetime from 16:00 on. The A4-paper had 12 to 16 pages. The paper was a downsized version of the Munich based Süddeutsche Zeitung. It closed down in November 2009. Primetime was also available as pdf-newsletter for registered users of SZ.
- German publisher Axel Springer (Bild Zeitung, Die Welt) joined the free dailies club in January 2007. Their cheap (70ct) tabloid Welt Kompakt was made available for free in German first class trains.
Holtzbrinck Verlag (Handelsblatt, Witschaftswoche, Tagesspiegel) launched Business News in August 2006, the successor of the compact News that was launched in 2004 in Frankfurt. Circulation of News (50 cents) was probably never more than a few thousand although the company aimed at 25,000. Launch date, content, circulation and the way of distribution (through 1000 office buildings) indicate that Holtzbrinck did not want to upset other German publishers. But the Business News launch did not lead to spoiler products, like Springer’s Gratissimo, which was announced in case Schibsted (20 Minuten) or Metro International would launch in Europe’s biggest newspaper market. The 32-page paper launched in eight markets and was made by a staff of 30. It used the resources of other Holtzbrinck papers and competed with Wirtschaftswoche, Handelsblatt (with which Business News offers joint advertising) and Financial Times Deutschland. In June 2007 the paper closed down.
Metro planed a German launch in the fall of 2005 and talked with potential partners. One of the possible partners was Alex Springer Verlag, a letter of intent was rumoured to be already signed. Also the publisher of Germany’s biggest regional paper Westdeutsche Algemeine Zeitung (Essen) was talking with Metro. Talks between WAZ and Metro three years ago lead to nothing. Schibsted was talking with RTL (Bertelmann). Berliner Verlag was also ready for a freebie launch.
The first launches of 20 Minuten (2005 or 2006) would be in Berlin (224,000), the Ruhr-area (187,000), Hamburg (165,000), Stuttgart (162,000), Cologne & Bonn (155,000), Frankfurt & Wiesbaden (154,000), Munich (131,000) and Düsseldorf (95,000). Dresden & Leipzig, Mannheim & Ludwigshafen, Hannover, Nürnberg, Bremen, Münster & Karlsruhe would later, extending the circulation from 1.1 to 2 million. Schibsted was talking with Schleswig-Holsteinischen Zeitungsverlag (Flensburg) about printing. Bild was preparing Gratissimo – Die kostenlose Tageszeitung für Deutschland to launch in 8 to 15 cities. Between 8 and 12 local publishers, led by Cologne company DuMont Schauberg asked the Bundeskartellamt (Office of Fair Trading) if a combined action (free daily) will be a violation of the German competition rules. DuMont was one of the parties in the Geman freebie war of 2000-2001 and then tried to have free papers forbidden altogether by the courts – a claim that was not accepted in 2003. Schibsted announced in that it would not start in Germany in 2006 but also revealed that it planned to launch free papers in one or two other ‘smaller’ countries.

15 Uhr Aktuell started in Berlin in 1998; in Hamburg and Munich in 1999. All editions closed down 2000.

20minkolnThe Cologne newspaper war started when 20 Minuten (Schibsted) launched in Köln in December 1999. On the same day Köln Extra (Alex Springer Verlag) entered the market while a third free paper Kölner Morgen from local publisher DuMont Schauberg (Express) was launched in February, 2000. Köln Extra, Kölner Morgen and 20 Minuten closed in July 2001.

koelnextraOther publishers sued Schibsted because of unfair competition. In 2007, the Bundesverfassungsgericht decided that they could not decide. Because 20 Minuten shut down, the issue was not resolved.

Travelers on first class DB trains and domestic flights are familiar with the compact free daily paper.

  • Der Spiegel experimented with ICE-Press, a paper printed on the ICE-trains (1997 – 1999).
  • Financial Times Deutschland launched FTD Kompakt in 2003 for first class travellers in ICE trains. It closed in 2006.
  • sportzeitungIn first class trains and the business class of the Lufthansa flights passengers got a special free Handelsblat edition: Handelsblatt News am Abend (1997). The paper moved in 2007 to competitor Air Berlin. The paper closed in of 2009.
  • In 2006, Deutsche Sportverlag (DSV) and airline Lufthansa launched Die Sportzeitung in 12 German airports. In 2007 the paper closed down.
  • In 2007 business class Lufthansa travelers got Süddeutsche Zeitung Primetime. The A4-paper had 12 to 16 pages. The paper was a downsized version of the Munich based Süddeutsche Zeitung. It closed down in November 2009. Primetime was also available as pdf-newsletter for registered users of SZ.
  • WeltAktuell2010Axel Springer (Bild Zeitung, Die Welt) distributed Welt Aktueel in first class trains between 2010 and 2013.

Holtzbrinck Verlag (Handelsblatt, Witschaftswoche, Tagesspiegel) launched Business News in August 2006, successor of News (2004) in Frankfurt. In June 2007 the paper closed down.

Metro planed a German launch in the fall of 2005 and talked with potential partners. One of the possible partners was Alex Springer Verlag. Also Westdeutsche Algemeine Zeitung (Essen) has been talking with Metro.

Schibsted was talking with RTL (Bertelmann), 20 Minuten wanted to launch in almost 20 markets, extending circulation to 2 million.

Bild has been preparing GratissimoDie kostenlose Tageszeitung für Deutschland – to launch in 8 to 15 cities. It never materialized.

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