Small towns really have local newspapers

Local journalism

Horst Röper

Horst Röper is a qualified journalist and head of the Formatt Institute for Media Research. The media researcher's regular analyzes of the German newspaper landscape provide a comprehensive picture of market developments, power relations and concentration movements in the industry.

Economic requirements and challenges

The newspaper traditionally operates on two markets: the reader and the advertising market. This mixed model is common in the media industry, but it also harbors risks. How can the democratic mandate and the management of the crisis be reconciled?

Ads and advertising are a crucial source of funding for the newspaper. Even more than subscription newspapers, only advertising-financed media feel the ups and downs in the advertising market. License: cc by-nc-nd / 2.0 / de (Martha Dear /

Newspaper publishers today have to deal with two problems at the same time. For one thing, fewer and fewer people are buying newspapers. Younger people in particular are less interested in the newspaper. The total circulation of German newspapers has been falling since the late 1980s. After reunification, newspapers across Germany reached a total circulation of 27.3 million copies per day of publication. In 2011 there were only 18.8 million copies, around a third less. The number of readers, however, has fallen less sharply as more and more people are sharing a newspaper. Statistically, each copy is used by 2.5 readers.

On the other hand, the publishers are economically harder hit by the sharp decline in advertising income. The publishers achieved the highest advertising revenues in 2000 with over 6.5 billion euros. In 2011 it was only € 3.5 billion. (see table)

Advertising revenue from the press - click on the graphic to open the PDF License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)

Part of the advertising money is now invested in the Internet. For decades, the publishers had earned around two thirds of their total income from advertising and only one third from selling newspapers. This relationship has fundamentally changed. For some years now, sales revenues have been higher than advertising revenues. Due to the lack of advertising income, the publishers were forced to repeatedly increase the selling price of their newspapers. You ran the risk of losing more readers as not all readers would accept such price increases. Subscribing to a local newspaper today costs an average of € 24.51 (€ 21.77 in Eastern Germany) per month in the event of regional differences. [1]

This mixed model for financing via sales and advertising income is common in the media industry. In addition to newspapers, magazines are mainly financed with this model. Only a special part of the journals (e.g. scientific journals) forego advertising income. Better known are those titles that are financed exclusively through advertising, for example many city magazines, trendy magazines and event calendars that are available for free in pubs or cafes, cinemas or meeting points. Advertisements, which mostly appear weekly with local topics and are delivered to households free of charge, are also financed exclusively through advertising. The same applies to private broadcasting, regardless of whether it is nationwide TV programs such as RTL and SAT.1 or local radio programs. Only public broadcasting with its TV programs (ARD, ZDF, arte, children's channel, etc.) and its radio programs differ fundamentally. Advertising revenue plays only a minor role in these programs. They are mainly financed by the license fee and from 2013 by the new license fee.

The advertising market - economic fluctuations and new offers

The media, which is exclusively financed by advertising, feel the ups and downs in the advertising market immediately. Advertising spending is influenced, among other things, by the general economic situation. Sometimes less, sometimes more, is advertised. In good years, the total turnover that the media industry generates with advertising is around € 20 billion. The media are in competition with each other. For the daily newspapers, the private and commercial car trade was a good advertising business for decades. Today, used cars in particular are advertised almost exclusively online. Real estate advertisements (apartments, houses, commercial buildings) and to a large extent also job advertisements have migrated from newspapers to providers on the Internet. This explains a significant part of the reduced advertising revenue of newspaper publishers.


Use of newspapers in Germany

Germans aged 14 and over read newspapers every day for 23 minutes. This corresponds roughly to the time they also read books (22 minutes) and only about a tenth of the time they spend in front of the television set (220 minutes). [1] Around two thirds of all Germans over the age of 14 read daily newspapers regularly (66 percent). [2] The greatest reach is achieved by local or regional daily newspapers (57 percent) [3], which not only provide news from all over the world but also provide information about local events. Around 90 percent of the circulation of these newspapers is sold through subscriptions. Therefore, they are also referred to as local subscription newspapers (subscription newspapers for short). Newspapers such as Bild, on the other hand, are sold through retail sales. They reach a fifth of the age group over 14 years. Only six percent of the age group read the national subscription newspapers such as the Süddeutsche Zeitung or the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Local subscription newspapers traditionally dominate the German newspaper market.


  1. Cf. ARD / ZDF: Long-term study on mass communication.
  2. German speakers over 14 years of age; see ma 2011 press media II.
  3. ibid
In 2011 there were still 329 local and regional subscription newspapers in Germany and 10 national daily newspapers. In 1960 there were 482 local and regional subscription newspapers (see graphic).