At Nexpo: U.S. Newspaper Future Being Played Out in Europe Today

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Free papers are capturing more than 60% of the newspaper market. Newspapers are improving their color reproduction with heatset presses. Fierce competitors are printing from the same plants.

That’s Europe’s newspaper market right now, and it could very well be America’s situation tomorrow, speakers at a Nexpo panel said Monday.

In Austria, for instance, the new free paper Osterreich is printed every day with a hybrid of heatset and coldset. “The difference between heatset and offset is evolving into just one press,” said Horst Pirker, CEO of Vorstandsvorsitzender Styia Medien AG und Herausgeber Die Presse in Austria.

The new paper, combined with its existing daily, is pushing circulation and revenue up, Pirker said.

Free newspapers have become ubiquitous in Europe — sometimes dangerously so for publishers, said Reiner Mittelbach, CEO of the Paris-based newspaper research organization Ifra.

“In Copenhagen now, four newspapers arrive in the mailbox every day — and (residents) don’t like it,” Mittelbach said. “One was finally forced out of the market.”

Free papers, he said, account for 63% of the Danish newspaper market.

Publishers simply have to look at free papers differently, Austrian publisher Pirker said. “You could look at free papers as a change in currency,” he said. “Instead of money being the currency, (readers) are paying with their time and attention” to advertising.

As U.S. newspaper companies watch their Internet revenues grow — but worry that they’re not growing as fast as print’s ad share declines — some European papers are figuring out how to accelerate the Web monetary contribution, Mittelbach said.

Schibsted in Norway, for instance, gets 30% of its profits now from digital media. The paper, whose print circulation is falling, has aggressively moved it mobile phone delivery of news, Mittelbach said.

But print needs to remain a major platform for newspapers, Austrian publisher Pirker said.

“I would tell you that you shouldn’t give up positions you already have,” he said. “That is, you shouldn’t give up paper. If you look at the trends you see that the end of newspapers is far, far away, if ever.”

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