Germany has seen interest in news, frequency of use, and trust all decline slightly in the past year. Commercial players are experiencing tough times with print sales falling, a major publisher being dismantled, titles being closed, and staff laid off. PSBs remain the most used news services, even after falls in reach this year, but they have been hit by a self-inflicted scandal which is prompting major changes to their future remit and organisation.
Commercial news providers have had a turbulent year. After RTL’s purchase of the Hamburg-based magazine publisher Gruner + Jahr (from Bertelsmann) last year, RTL has closed multiple titles and laid off several hundred employees. Up to 700 jobs will be lost in Hamburg alone. A few famous titles, such as Stern, will be retained and the rest sold. Declining advertising revenues are cited as the main reason. The remaining titles are now to be increasingly focused on the digital business.
Axel Springer, the owners of Germany’s most successful tabloid, Bild, has also announced plans to cut jobs while investing to become a purely digital media company. Bild’s move into TV has been scaled back and its main live bulletins Bild Live and Bild am Abend have been cancelled because of low ratings. In April 2023, Axel-Springer-CEO Mathias Döpfner came under pressure as leaked messages contained controversial comments about East Germany and climate change, among other things, and seemed to be attempting to exert political influence over the editorial team.1
Sales of printed newspapers and magazines both fell in the fourth quarter of 2022. The German Audit Bureau of Circulation (IVW), blamed high inflation in part for the fall in paid circulation of daily newspapers, including Sundays, of 9.41% to an average of 12.3m copies daily in Q4 2022 compared with 13.54m a year earlier.
The fall affected quality papers and tabloids alike. Well-known titles such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) and the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) each saw total paid circulation decline by between 5 and 6% in Q4 2022 compared with the same period in 2021. Meanwhile tabloid Bild2 also saw sales fall, by 7.63% in the same period to 1.099m. Bild’s digital subscriptions increased, but not by enough to compensate for falling print sales.
Of our survey respondents 11% pay for online news. Titles mentioned most frequently include Bild, Der Spiegel, FAZ, and SZ. In general, daily papers saw digital subscriptions grow by 5% but FAZ and SZ’s growth was rather slower (FAZ up from 59,170 to 62,478 and SZ up from 96,616 to 98, 817) and this also failed to compensate – either numerically or financially – for the decline in print. With weeklies things were brighter with an overall increase of nearly 50% in digital subscriptions; titles such as Der Spiegel and Die Zeit saw slower digital growth but nevertheless sufficient to drive overall increases in paid circulation.
The delivery of printed daily newspapers was partially discontinued for some brands on the grounds of cost, especially in rural areas. Under the coalition agreement between the governing parties, financial support for newspaper delivery was promised but has not yet happened.
In the dispute between Google and the collecting society Corint Media, representing about one-third of the German press, the official Arbitration Board has proposed that Google should provisionally pay €5.8m for the use of press content. The payment would be for the period from 7 June 2021 and is under consideration by Corint Media which had originally demanded a payment of €420m from Google.
The debate about public service broadcasting in Germany has flared up again, prompted by a scandal in late 2022 at Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB), one of the stations that is part of the ARD network. The scandal involved accusations of nepotism, waste, and improper award of contracts against the former director of the RBB. RBB’s director and chairman were both fired after a committee of inquiry and investigations by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, but reforms have also been made to the supervisory committees of all PSBs. The affair has led to changes in the Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting, coming into force in 2025, including a tighter remit for German PSBs together with measures to increase transparency and oversight. This may affect numbers of PSB TV channels or what moves to the internet or is stopped altogether. A scandal at one ARD station is going to have far-reaching consequences for the shape of German PSBs over the coming years.
Leibniz-Institute for Media Research | Hans Bredow Institute, Hamburg
Use of all sources declined. This may partially reflect increasing general news avoidance. However, the public broadcast channels ARD and ZDF have seen a greater decline in their weekly use for news than RTL, the leading commercial channel.
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Trust in news overall has fallen to a level below that seen before the COVID bump. This is reflected in falling trust for almost every brand too. Scandals like those at public broadcaster RBB do not help improve the overall picture but the two main PSB news brands still have the highest level of trust and Bild the lowest.
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2 Bild’s figures are reported together with Berlin’s B.Z. paper.