Local Media How are the printed city program guides faring?

Do city magazines have a future in face of the Internet?
Do city magazines have a future in face of the Internet? | Photo (detail): Robert Ivanov © iStockphoto

Twenty years ago, when you were looking for something to do in the city, you opened up the program guide with listings of concerts, theater works, exhibitions, films and parties. Now everything is online – and it’s free. So what does that mean for the print magazines?

Despite 15 years of being increasingly deemed as outdated, program guides have survived thus far. Nearly every German city has them, either at the newsstand or for free, and larger cities even have a selection of them. The original city program guides came out in the 1970s and were focused on more alternative scenes. They covered topics that weren’t given space in the daily newspapers: small cultural projects, merciless gentrification efforts and automobile-free cities. The magazines wrote about and announced related events in their program calendars, which ultimately became their main features. Then the Internet came and circulation numbers dropped in the mid-1990s.

Home court advantage

“The prohibition of tobacco advertising in 2007 was much worse for the city magazines than the Internet,” says Gerhard Fiedler, publisher of Szene Hamburg, one of the oldest of its kind in Germany. Until the implementation of the so-called European Tobacco Advertising Directive, most of these rags lived off of cigarette ads. Still, despite the continued decline of ad revenue and an omnipresent Internet, these print stalwarts are still bucking the trend. Szene Hamburg sells 15,000 copies a month. In the mid-1990s it was 22,000, but Fiedler still believes in the future of printed periodicals. “Different forms of media can coexist,” he says. “Each of them has its own quality.” One thing is certain: Event calendars are no longer the main platform for these magazines. There needs to be a change in the concept. “City magazines need to rededicate themselves to the unusual,” says Fiedler, who is trying to revitalize reporting as an element of Szene Hamburg. Fiedler sees it as an opportunity that people are increasingly interested in what is happening in their neighborhoods: “Local is where our strength lies.”

According to Fiedler, the future of city magazines is not on the Internet. “All of the attempts by publishers to make it a paid service have failed,” he says. For him, applications for tablet computers and smartphones are the future. “But those types of developments are very gradual for small publishers like us.”

Selection and classification

At the moment, the calendar is still an integral part of these publications. The makers of the Leipziger Kreuzer have even determined that many people look specifically to their magazine for event tips. “Our selection and classification of the events is important,” says editor-in-chief Claudia Euen. And they are only available in the print version, just like the thorough and visually inviting stories, which are a central draw in Euen’s opinion. The Leipziger Kreuzer was born out of the cultural supplement of a daily newspaper in 1991. As such, it is still quite young but has had consistent circulation of roughly 10,000 copies. Unlike many bigger cities, Leipzig has a real market for alternative media because there is only one daily newspaper. Its readership is between 50 and 60 years of age while the Kreuzer attracts people from their late-20s to late-30s.

The competition is greatest in Berlin, where two city magazines, Zitty and Tip, a number of dailies and loads of free program guides battle for the capital city’s politically and culturally inclined readers. The traditionally liberal Zitty comes out every 14 days and has a circulation of 32,000 with a core readership that is about 35 years of age. Editor-in-chief Kai Röger considers Zitty a brand that stands for Berlin expertise. The foundation of the brand in his mind is the printed magazine, which differentiates itself with local stories and, more importantly, reviews and daily tips. “People depend on the brand,” says Röger. “That is why we still exist.”

Finding new niches

With declining circulation figures and fracturing markets, the old model is no longer enough. Serving niche markets is a method that other newspaper publishers have successfully employed. The publishers of Zitty, for example, produce more special issues than any other city magazine: Eating&Drinking, Shopping, Fashion, Design, Family, Brandenburg and a Berlin Book. “Print generates more revenue than online,” says Röger. For him, both media outlets are good for different things. The print version provides inspiration for the indecisive while the online version provides results for specific searches.

He doubts hat Zitty will be earning money on the Internet any time in the near future. “The credibility of the online world is basically nonexistent,” he says. “But they need the brand.” He sees new sources of revenue in sponsoring deals or as a service provider for other companies. The publisher produced a brochure about Berlin to accompany the Bread & Butter fashion show, for example. “To do that you need the expertise of the brand. The original city magazine format has a future,” says Röger, “especially if you can offer good journalism with stories to read and believable editorials.”