Black day for German media as paper prints final edition

 

The departure of the business daily has triggered fears in media circles

For the first – and last – time in its 12-year history, the Financial Times Deutschland all but sold out yesterday in Germany.

At kiosks around the country, curious first-time readers bought the pink paper’s final issue to see what they’d been missing: one of Germany’s few papers with a sense of humour.

The black humour was in evidence on the masthead, where four letters were excised to read “Fi..n..al Times”.

The valedictory editorial was a cheeky mea culpa: “Sorry to the shareholders for burning up so many millions [an estimated €250 million], apologies, dear advertisers, for reporting critically on your companies . . . apologies, dear politicians, that we believed you so rarely.”

The departure of Germany’s second business daily, a separate entity to the British FT, silences one of the few challenging voices to Germany’s ordoliberal mainstream. It has also triggered a fresh wave of Zukunftsangst – fear of the future – in media circles, with the insolvent left-wing Frankfurter Rundschau’s fate as bleak as the FTD.

Meanwhile, Germany’s largest media group, Axel Springer, has announced plans to follow the New York Times and launch a new paywall for its titles, including Bild and Die Welt.

“The fate of our industry will be decided by whether, in the digital world, successful models for journalism are available,” Axel Springer chairman Mathias Döpfner told Die Zeit weekly.

Axel Springer is far from financial extinction: its 2011 pretax profits totalled €600 million, two-thirds of which were earned by its newspaper and magazine imprints.

Paywall plan

But with print circulation falling and print advertising down 12 per cent year-on-year in the third quarter, Dr Döpfner has announced plans for a paywall. It will allow access to up to 10 free articles online, after which readers will be presented with a one-click subscription offer.

German media companies, including Axel Springer, have launched a battle on another front, demanding payment each time snippets of their stories are used on aggregator websites such as Google News.

A new law regulating the practice is passing through the Bundestag, with a final reading scheduled for March. Google has launched a campaign against the law, arguing that it would mean “less information for citizens and higher costs for companies”.

“Searching and finding, a basic function of the internet, would be disturbed by this law,” Stefan Tweraser, Google director for Germany, told media website Heise.

“We are asking internet users to campaign for the right to find what they’re looking for on the internet.”

Google argues that it already makes a financial contribution to news organisations as its aggregator site generates traffic, and consequently advertising revenue.

Publishers counter that the search engine company makes more money than they do on the transaction and see the new law as an attempt to rebalance the terms of their relationship.

Axel Springer public affairs president Christoph Keese said publishers wanted the final say over how long and to whom excerpts from their texts were available online.

“Suppressed and boycotted”

“This is the most natural thing in the world. But Google has suppressed and boycotted every one of these initiatives,” he told media magazine Horizont. “In this point Google is a kind of Taliban and rejects any kind of progress.”

He later corrected himself, saying he meant Google was “rigid” or “orthodox . . . not a fundamentalist crusader”.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has thrown her weight behind the law, saying “publishing costs time and money and I can understand why protection is being demanded”.

Besides Google, opposition to the law has come from internet activists, bloggers and online organisations such as Wikimedia and the Chaos Computer Club.