English Language Newspapers in Germany

September 18, 2014 • Media Economics, Specialist Journalism • by

German newspapers are attempting to reach international audiences, and increase their readership and influence, by publishing in the English language.  Handelsblatt, a leading business daily newspaper, is the latest to start an online English edition.

Handelsblatt Global Edition, launched earlier this month, is hoping to attract new readers by offering German economic news and analysis to English-speaking markets around the world.

“We are going for the global audience,” Kevin O’Brien, editor-in-chief, said. “We represent German business in English to the audience that is interested to learn about the German economy but does not know the language. We provide a trustworthy window at the ground level without the foreign filter.”

However, other online English versions of German newspapers have so far had mixed success. Der Spiegel International cut most of its staff at the beginning of this year, citing commercial pressure; Die Welt has also reportedly scaled back earlier plans to develop an English version. Die Zeit translates some of its articles into English online and publishes an English language magazine only every six months.

Wolfgang Blau, director of digital strategy at the UK’s Guardian newspaper and former editor-in-chief at Zeit Online, said that German media organizations did not expect to make a profit from publishing in English online, because digital audiences attract little extra advertising revenue.

In an interview with theMediaBriefing, Blau said that German newspapers are instead driven by a desire to take part in an increasingly international news environment.  “It is more being understood as a journalistic necessity to take part and be heard in conversations in many topics that are actually global, if not at least transnational conversations,” he said.  As examples, Blau cited “debates over Europe’s proper response to the Russian invasion into the Ukraine, issues over the reform of European institutions or more general issues such as climate change. These are inherently English conversations.”

Blau conceded that Handelsblatt Global Edition, which is targeting the business market, might have better commercial prospects however.  “For Handelsblatt there is a commercial hope. There is some more resource assigned to that, from looking at it. Because it is a business daily and there is an appetite for getting a different perspective on the Eurozone’s policies, economical coverage, more than business policies, there’s an appetite that could make it worthwhile if they’re nimble,” he said.

Kevin O’Brien, believes that the new English edition can compete in the same market as the UK’s Financial Times and can be financially sustainable. “We are much more than a translation service.” He described the online newspaper as a “self-sustaining independent arm (which) …  offers the best, most current information about Germany that no other media does [either] in English or German,” O’Brien said.

“We are starting with a good momentum. We are a business-to-business newspaper. We sell individual subscriptions at 149.9 euros per year, but we also sell to large German corporations, to multinationals, who employ non-German speakers. We sell to investors, who are interested in German economy and need to be better informed.”

As Handelsblatt tries to compete with the UK’s Financial Times, in English, media analysts remember attempts by the Financial Times to compete with Handelsblatt, by publishing in German. The Financial Times Deutschland, a joint venture between the UK newspaper’s publishers, Pearsonand Gruner + Jahr, a German magazine publisher, owned by Bertelsmann, was launched in 2000, but closed 12 years later. The newspaper never made a profit but made a cumulative loss of around 250 million euros. The newspaper’s failure was blamed on falling print sales, and competition from online media.

The FT’s positive international image might have helped the German version stay afloat for 12 years, but it did not help the newspaper become self-sustaining in a market with a solid journalism culture and some strong local players. Being published in German bound the newspaper to compete only within Germany or, at most, German speaking countries. This was an unnecessary limitation, given that the Financial Times Deutschland mainly targeted highly educated readers in Germany, a category of people who usually have a good command of English.

This article is available on EJO also in Italian

Illustration: Screenshot of Handelsblatt Global Edition

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