Costly and complicated, running a foreign language editorial operation is not an easy thing to do. But that's not stopping a growing number of German publications from experimenting with English-language news products.
Gerd still prefers his news auf Deutsch
As Germany's state-backed international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle's mandate is to provide unbiased news and information to people who may not necessarily understand German. Funded by German taxpayers, DW-WORLD is able to compete in the rough-and-tumble world of English-speaking media.
Germany's private print media don't have that security or mandate, but that's not stopping several publications -- tempted by the chance to reach a wider audience -- from exploring different ways to tap into the English market.
The country's leading weekly newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, has decided to become the latest to enter the fray, offering an English e-mail newsletter starting this autumn.
The first issue of Der Spiegel was published January 4, 1947.
"We want to expand the Spiegel brand to the English market. There are a lot of people there that are aware of the magazine but they unfortunately can't read it," Spiegel Online Editor-in-Chief Mathias Müller von Blumencron told DW-WORLD.
Managing news operations in foreign languages can be notoriously difficult, which is why Spiegel is starting with a small team of three English-language editors who will work with the magazine's online edition. That way if the project doesn't work out, the financial downside will be limited.
The Berliner Zeitung newspaper last month quoted Spiegel publisher Fried von Bismarck as saying the initial investment in the project would be limited to around half a million euros. Von Blumencron said the daily newsletter would predominately have specialized original content, complemented by translated Spiegel articles. He expects the service to launch in October.
A niche market?
Horst Röper, director of the Dortmund-based Formatt media institute, said despite Spiegel's top-drawer reputation, moving into the English media world was not without risk. "It can certainly be successful, so long as one doesn't have large expectations," he said. "Generally foreign language products are niche products for niche markets."
Spiegel is just the latest prestigious German publication to hop on the English bandwagon. Both the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspapers already have weekly English supplements.
However, the two papers have taken different approaches: Whereas the FAZ supplies the German edition of the International Herald Tribune (IHT) with an English FAZ Weekly supplement, the Süddeutsche each Monday publishes a section with selected articles from the New York Times in English. So the Süddeutsche is focusing on Germans who read English and the FAZ is catering to English-speakers who want to read about Germany.
"We are targeting different groups -- we are focused mainly on international travellers," Anke Bryson, FAZ Weekly's executive editor, told DW-WORLD. She said her staff of full-time journalists wrote predominately original content for the IHT, with about a third of the supplement coming from translated FAZ articles.
Scaled back, or worse
You mean I have to write this twice?
But the FAZ's foray into English publishing hasn't always been a smooth ride. The English editorial staff has been cut dramatically since its launch in 2000. In 2002, the paper ceased publication of its daily English edition and instead launched a new weekly publication. Other attempts have fared even worse. Die Welt newspaper, backed by the powerful Axel Springer publishing group, folded its English language offering entirely a few years ago.
With that in mind, von Blumencron has no illusions that Spiegel's effort will be easy. "We obviously can't earn money with it right away," he said. "We'll have to see how fast it grows."
Yet some are hoping that Spiegel's entry to the English market is signalling the start of better times.
"It's still a difficult business to be in -- however, that's the case for the entire publishing industry at the moment," said Bryson from the FAZ. "But I'm pleased that the market for English language publications in Germany appears to be reviving."