Axel Springer’s business magazine thrives on freedom of being a start-up

Axel Springer continues to offer content value to the media industry while maintaining their startup drive.
Axel Springer continues to offer content value to the media industry while maintaining their startup drive.

Once a month, one of our editors takes a hammer in hand and drives a nail into a wall on our editorial office floor. We then hang up a blown-up cover of the current issue of Bilanz. The walls are not particularly thick, so the nails sink into them almost of their own accord.

Our editorial offices are not that big, either, and our hallway is quite short and ends up narrower at the far end than it is at the entrance. 

In May of 2014, we hung up the cover page of our very first issue, “Power Struggle at the Aldi Süd Supermarket Chain.” You can see it on the left, just as you come in off the stairwell. By now, the right side of the hallway is also hung with mounted covers.

We eventually came to the end of the hall and had to double back in the other direction. Before long, we’ll have to come up with a new solution. In fact, we only have room for another four or five issues.

This is actually a vivid manifestation of how our editorial office used to work and think: “Let’s take this one step at a time.” Not that any of us ever doubted that Bilanz would become a success. Or that we lacked for ambition or seriousness of purpose. But the magazine was a start-up, so we improvised, experimented, tried things out. 

For example, we saw a big advantage – and still do – in the fact that we didn’t already have a core readership that had grown over decades and become used to the magazine, one whose goodwill we would needlessly put at risk with conceptual experiments.

Also, we were just a supplement to the daily newspaper Die Welt during our first year (today the magazine is also available at newsstands).

These circumstances gave us conceptual and narrative freedom, which we made ample use of. Admittedly, our first cover wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. (One critic jibed that: “…it presumably resulted when the layout software crashed.”) 

Bilanz keeping the cutting edge of visual and descriptive content.
Bilanz keeping the cutting edge of visual and descriptive content.

Truth be told, it was hardly a risk-free undertaking on the part of the Axel Springer publishing house to launch a new business magazine.

The industry’s self-appointed mavens grumbled and warned that companies were placing less and less advertising, that all the established business journals were losing circulation, and that the few remaining loyal readers seemed to have the attention span of hyperactive puppies.

But courage won out in the end. Although Springer has been publishing Bilanz as a bi-weekly Swiss business magazine for many years now — and although we do collaborate with some of our Swiss colleagues — we have never limited our mission to simply producing a German edition of Bilanz. 

Then, as now, our goal has been to be independent and true to ourselves. Distinctive, entertaining, almost to the point of being a bit quirky and eccentric. To make idiosyncrasy our calling card. Our stories grab the reader’s attention and are always told from the human point of view. 

“Humour is part of our business model,” says Editor-in-Chief Klaus Boldt. So unquestioning reverence isn’t the approach we take here at Bilanz. We’re not afraid to take aim at the ponderous and humuorless sense of self-importance with which PR agencies and managers love to puff themselves up.

We tried different things and by December 2014, after only six issues, Bilanz had a completely new look. Reactions were overwhelmingly positive. Increasingly, our approach is to have photographers accompany our journalists to their interviews, ensuring that Bilanz’s visual language becomes as distinctive as our texts. 

In other words, everything is in constant flow: The Web site will be overhauled, we will hire at least one new copy editor, and a new column will form part of the upcoming issue. Meanwhile we’re already thinking about the next subtle adjustment to the layout.

As for the problem with the cover pages hanging in the corridor, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But one thing is for sure: We look forward to more than just another four or five issues! 

About Stephan Knieps

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.