How Germany’s newspapers have weathered the coronavirus crisis

The coronavirus pandemic may have sent advertising revenues plunging worldwide, but Germany's beloved newspapers expect to emerge winners from the crisis thanks to accelerating digital development and renewed trust in the media.

How Germany's newspapers have weathered the coronavirus crisis
A selection of German newspapers on display in a waiting room in Potsdam in 2018. Photo: DPA

“The newspaper industry has so far come through the crisis relatively well,” said Monique Hofmann, a media specialist with the Verdi trade union in Germany, where more newspapers are sold than in any other European country.

“We believe that readers' demand for information will remain high,” she said, predicting that if it takes advantage of new developments, the industry can “not only survive the crisis, but emerge from it stronger”.

READ ALSO: Which German industries have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus crisis?

According to the Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV), there are some reasons to be cheerful about how the sector was affected at the height of the crisis in March, April and May.

A recent BDZV report showed that only one in 10 members suffered a dramatic drop in circulation numbers. A quarter said sales were stable and around half managed to limit the decline to between one and five percent.

A woman sits in the sportshall Möhringen and reads a newspaper on March 22nd. Photo: DPA

Digital 'through the roof'

Despite a steady decline in sales in recent years, Germany still sells some 14 million copies of 327 different daily newspapers every day, according to BDZV figures from 2019.

This puts daily newspaper sales well ahead of Britain, for example, which has just over nine million, or France which has six million.

On top of that, the country has 17 weeklies and six Sunday editions.

The crisis has certainly left its mark: advertising revenues have collapsed, sometimes by as much as 80 percent, and about a third of employees have been laid off, according the BDZV's Anja Pasquay.

But “German newspapers were printed and delivered on time every day”, she points out.

And digital subscriptions, which have long lagged behind print sales, have gone “through the roof”.

“Publishing houses unanimously told us that projects — especially digital ones — that had been under consideration for months or even years were suddenly successfully implemented within a few weeks,” Pasquay said.

Friedrich Kalber, a spokesman for the Axel Springer group, reported record digital subscriptions in March and April for the conservative Die Welt daily and the Bild tabloid, Germany's best-selling newspaper, though he was unable to give figures.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung sold 150,000 new digital subscriptions in March alone, a level that the centre-left Munich newspaper had previously only hoped to achieve by the end of 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a hunger for credible information and a renaissance for traditional media, according to Frank Thomsen, editor of the Stern news magazine.

In a survey conducted at the end of May by the ZMG media institute, more than 90 percent of 4,000 respondents rated the news from daily newspapers as “particularly reliable” and best able to guide them through the mass of information on the pandemic.

Hybrid offers

Archive photo shows an old digital offer from the 'Hamburger Abendblatt'. Photo: DPA

But although the crisis has provided a fillip for digital technology, experts stress that a complete move away from physical sales is not going to be possible in the immediate future.

“There are still too many readers who want to hold a newspaper in their hands,” said Frank Überall, president of the German Federation of Journalists (DJV) — mainly older people, who make up the majority of newspaper readers in Germany.

According to the DJV, only 22 percent of over-50s can imagine getting used to reading their daily news online.

This is the nub of the problem for publishing houses: ideally, they would like to do away with physical sales because of high distribution costs, but they depend on them for revenue — and meanwhile they can only attract new, younger customers with digital products.

“Delivery of printed newspapers early in the morning will become increasingly expensive and in the medium term, in the worst case, will lead to certain regions in Germany no longer being able to supply local newspapers,” predicts Pasquay, estimating that 40 percent of municipalities will be affected within five years.

To retain subscribers, the solution will probably involve hybrid offers, she says, with digital editions during the week and a paper edition at the weekend.

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now