German newspaper publisher begins charging for online content | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 16.12.2009
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German newspaper publisher begins charging for online content

Newspapers have been devastated by giving away their content online for free, according to the Axel Springer publishing company. Now it's adopting a new business model and charging for local news.

Euro coins on a screenshot of the Hamburger Abendblatt

Are Internet users willing to pay for content?

Revolting against a "culture of free" online content, publisher Axel Springer is charging for articles appearing on the Web sites of the Hamburger Abendblatt and Berliner Morgenpost newspapers.

Active in 35 countries with more than 170 titles, Axel Springer is Germany's largest newspaper publisher and third-largest magazine publisher. Earlier this month it launched an iPhone "app" enabling users to read two of its other newspapers, Bild and Welt, on a paid-subscription basis.

The Hamburger Abendblatt charges 7.95 euros ($11.60) while the Berliner Morgenpost charges 4.95 euros per month of access primarily to local and regional news.

Most national and international news on the sites is still free, as are sports, culture and service sections. Print-edition subscribers do not have to pay for online access.

Purchasing individual articles through micropayments is not possible, which has drawn some criticism of the new payment structure's viability.

Experts skeptical

Axel Springer headquarters

Axel Springer sells more than 170 publications in 35 countries

Wolfgang Schweiger, professor of public relations and communication of technology at the Ilmenau University of Technology, said he would be more optimistic about the paid-content approach if publishers cooperated more behind the scenes.

"The most promising solution would be if all media outlets banded together and created a pricing cartel," he said. "As long as comparable free offerings are available it will be difficult."

Whether online journalism can eventually support itself and newspapers can maintain the value of their journalistic brands remains to be seen, according to Schweiger.

"We are in the middle of an enormous structural change, and the problem is none of us know exactly where we're headed," he said.

Struggle to survival

Similar paid access has been met with limited success in other countries, but German newspapers say they need to act to avoid further losses.

Berliner Morgenpost's office

The Berliner Morgenpost was founded in 1898

"We've dared to take the initiative, because our news is too valuable to keep giving it away," Hamburger Abendblatt Deputy Director Matthias Iken announced in the paper.

Axel Springer's chief executive Mathias Doepfner recently said the company's initiative to charge premiums for online content is a long-term investment into counteracting the assumption that it should be free. It may not be possible to finance quality journalism through online advertising alone, he said.

Author: Gerhard Schneibel (with AFP/dpa)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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