The Economy in Germany

“Some of the truths in economics are rather banal!” – an interview with Gabriele Fischer

Gabriele Fischer; Foto: Frank Siemer, © brand einsGabriele Fischer; Foto: Frank Siemer, © brand eins
Gabriele Fischer; Photo Frank Siemer, © brand eins

It was back in 1999 when Gabriele Fischer and her team, initiated the new business magazine, “brand eins”. Investors jumped on board and a publishing house was established called “brand eins Medien AG” – a company that even today is still independent with no affiliations to the big German publishing houses. Editor-in-chief, Gabriele Fischer, talked to us about the secret of her magazine’s success and about what good business journalism is all about today.

Frau Fischer, other business papers are closing down, your circulation is on the up and up. How does that work?

Maybe our readers have noticed that we have fun doing the job. They are able to identify with the people we profile and also with those who write for the magazine. We sell about 100,000 copies per month, last year the sales from kiosks increased by three per cent. This is unusual in these times of shrinking circulations. The conclusion to be drawn here is that readers are willing to pay good money for a magazine that is worth it.

Is the secret of your success making business more accessible by using people to explain it? That is part of it. In one of our supplements called “The Good Life” it was necessary to profile a lot of people, because there is no standard definition of what the “Good Life” is. On the topic of “Borders” we have decided to look for other forms of access. Nevertheless our guiding principle is - business is done by people.

“Our aim is to make business understandable”

What goes into making good business journalism good?

We look for changes, we observe and analyse society’s process of further development. The driving force for us is the quest for ideas, background information, developments. We are not a finance magazine that lists stock exchange analyses or tips for investment. Our aim is to make business understandable.

Every edition of your magazine focuses on a special theme like work, brands, borders or even love and art. How do you actually hit upon these themes?

At the end of the year the editorial team gets together and thinks about what subjects might be of interest in the year to come. What comes out of it is for us something like a back-up, as things often turn out to be rather different. In general we adopt a very flexible approach when deciding on these theme focuses, providing each edition with a certain guideline along which we can then freely associate our ideas.

There was however not much cover of the causes of the financial crisis, and later the Euro crisis, in your magazine ...

Some of the truths in economics are rather banal, they do not have to be constantly repeated. We all know that we have been living beyond our means since the 1970s and that governments have accumulated too much debt – that is one of the major problems. And now we have to try and find a way to make headway despite all this – and that is what we focus on. One thing is for sure however - there are no easy solutions either in or for Europe.

Argentina went broke, yet still managed to bounce back ...

One of the main differences in this case was that Argentina was alone and had to endure some really hard, bitter times on its own. Europe is a community, so it is not just the problem of Greece, Cyprus or Italy. All European politicians are afraid that confidence in the whole Euro zone is going to be affected and that Europe is going to fall even further behind China and the USA.

“More money than sense”

Did business journalists fail to notice the financial crisis of 2008/2009?

People like to say that - but for those people who read there were numerous critical articles in various business publications even before 2009. In March 2006, for example, we centred our focus on capitalism: “More money than sense”. In the years between 2000 and 2007 however the chief emphasis in the business press was on – how can I get rich quick? Nobody was interested in the fact that the bubble might burst. It was like being drunk – nobody wanted to hear anything about a hangover.

What role does ecology play in your magazine? Or – to use the buzzword of the moment – “sustainability”?

I really do not like this word as it really does not say anything. Ecological issues are often ideologically charged and we have an allergic reaction to ideologies. In my opinion it should be part of good business practice to treat people and our environment with great care. Business can only flourish, if we respect our resources. At the same time however it does not do any harm when environmentalists get involved in market economies. In September 2002 we had a special focus on eco-capitalism – “The last hope of saving the environment”. Back then the main tenet was that it was cleverer to join forces with entrepreneurs rather than with politicians. In the meantime this has become quite a common option.

Who are your readers and how do you rate them?

Most of them are between 29 and 49 years old, but brand eins is also read by both 16-year-olds as well as by 80-year-olds. About 40 per cent of our readers are women – which is quite remarkable for a business magazine. And we have about 47,000 followers on Facebook. From our many contacts with readers we know – they are open to change and do not allow themselves to be fazed so fast.

Can the fact that women like to read the magazine be put down to the editor-in-chief being a woman?

I hope not. For me this whole debate about women is a topic from the 1990s. What is more important for me is not whether enough women are represented at executive level, but whether organisations function and how they deal with all the new requirements and standards. We are on a new, exciting path to a future that is still widely unknown and we still have a lot of challenges to overcome. For this we need people who are prepared for change – it does not matter if they are men or women.

Volker Thomas
conducted the interview. He is a free-lance journalist in Berlin and runs an agency for copy and design.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
April 2013

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