In December 2018, Axel Springer’s CEO Mathias Döpfner announced an unexpected spin-off from German tabloid giant Bild — Bild Politik, a weekly politics magazine. If the market test in northern Germany goes well, Axel Springer might take Bild Politik national.
I am over the moon and grateful because this was my idea. Many colleagues had their doubts when I proposed a new print product. But I strongly believe that there is a market for an inexpensive, intelligent, and fun politics magazine, especially in such politically charged times in Europe.
First, a personal confession: I am 33 years old and I do not remember the last time I bought a daily newspaper. My world is digital. But I happily spend money on my Economist subscription (and, yes, I love my gossip and fashion magazines). Sometimes I read a book on a Kindle or a long essay on my smartphone, but I still prefer paper. I love turning pages. I love the smell of a freshly printed magazine. And somehow I can’t imagine it being all that different in five or 10 years.
In Germany, the print market is still relatively healthy compared to English-speaking markets. Circulations are falling, but not in every segment. Some weekly and monthly magazines are stable or even growing. Some print magazines have average readerships that are 35 years old, not 55.
Unfortunately, none of this is true for political publications. Successful political publications in Germany are very niche, very expensive, or foreign.
The Economist sells a remarkable number of copies in Germany, although it is written in English. Bild Politik is a very different product, but the British magazine powerhouse was an inspiration to us in three ways:
- You don’t need ultra-thick or glossy paper to be successful. Maybe the German market is missing a magazine you can fold up and put in your pocket. First reactions from readers indicate that we are onto something.
- We love the Economist’s simple and elegant style. German politics magazines tend to indulge in complexity. Bild, Germany’s No. 1 tabloid, always choses simplicity over complexity, and so does Bild Politik. We are using our tabloid roots and Bild’s incredibly productive and professional politics team to create a fresh approach to political magazine journalism with pithy and provocative headlines, clean prose, and clear conclusions.
- One of our core principles is a strict separation of facts and opinion. The Economist can be extremely opinionated and highly analytical, and you always know what you are reading.
So, is Bild Politik trying to be a German Economist? Absolutely not.
We have created something new, something we hope is truly original. For example, we have no sections such as domestic, foreign, economics. These traditional categories no longer apply to most pressing political and social issues of our time.
Our structure clearly gives away our tabloid roots. We use emotions, not sections. And we found three beautiful (and short!) German words to describe them: Ärger (anger, disturbance, botherance), Neugier (curiosity), and Freude (joy, happiness).
While we write our stories and plan each issue, we ask ourselves: What political news made people angry this week? What piqued our readers’ interests, and what may have sparked feelings of hope or joy? The sections are colour coded in red, blue, and orange.
Our structure is unusual, and it works. We assume our readers follow the news from Monday to Friday and that they have a host of unanswered questions. Whenever people find a headline irritating (Ärger) or interesting (Neugier), there is typically at least one unanswered question left in the back of their minds. We assume there is an appetite to dig into these questions over the weekend, possibly with a hot beverage and a printed magazine in hand.
Last but not least, we believe in journalistic minimalism. Readers will not find scene settings in Bild Politik. We try to write only about the stuff that millions of people care about. We are not overly concerned about pretty writing. We want to be relevant to our readers. The other day, one of our readers made us very happy when she said: “I usually read about politics online, but I really like this magazine. It looks like an app.”
It sounds like Bild Politik does resonate with the audience we set out to target.