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Newspaper market becomes more crowded

The latest free newspaper to hit the stands is called .ch Keystone

Competition in the already crowded Swiss newspaper market has intensified with the arrival of a new Sunday newspaper and a free journal in the German-speaking area.

This content was published on September 19, 2007 - 18:52

The established newspapers now face a bigger battle to stem falling circulation numbers, but the survival of at least one newcomer is far from certain, according to a media expert.

The introduction of the Sonntag (Sunday) newspaper aimed at local communities in several German-speaking cantons last weekend was followed by a third free newspaper - .ch - launched on Wednesday.

The free .ch joins the well established 20 Minutes and Heute (Today) - launched last year - in an expanding but ferociously competitive market. Publisher Sacha Wigdorovits has already claimed that the .ch newspaper and its accompanying website would be the number one cross-media brand in the next three years.

But Josef Trappel, of Zurich University's department of journalism and media research, doubts that it can compete with 20 Minutes, which soon saw off rival Metro after it came onto the stands in 1999.

"I have doubts whether there is room for a third free newspaper in the German-speaking part of Switzerland," Trappel told swissinfo. "Heute has little advertising in it indicating it might already be in financial trouble and .ch might run into similar problems."

But there can be little doubt that the free journal market is booming as it captures an audience of both regular newspaper readers and those who do not bother with the more weighty daily titles.

Altogether there five free papers that are either already on the German-speaking market or about to join it. Besides .ch, 20 Minutes and Heute, there is also Cash Daily that is already available, while News, published by the Tages Anzeiger group, the Basler Zeitung and the Berner Zeitung, will appear in December.

New media pressure

The latest figures show that 20 Minutes has grown to a circulation of 1,488,000, putting it well ahead of Heute's 230,000 readership.

In the French-speaking part, 20 Minutes' only current rival is Le Matin Bleu, which has a higher circulation.

The paid-for newspaper and magazine market has been feeling the pressure for a number of years with a declining readership. This year saw the end of the financial bi-weekly newspaper Cash (launched in 1989) and news magazine Facts (1995).

The demise of Cash was partly precipitated by the emergence of a daily free version of the same title in 2006. The two stablemates were meant to complement each other, but publishers Ringier decided that a multimedia approach would be more profitable.

Trappel believes traditional newspapers are being squeezed between free sheets and new multimedia offerings.

"The emergence and growth of the free newspapers has certainly accelerated the decline in circulation of their paid-for counterparts, but it is too simplistic to say that they are killing them," he told swissinfo.

"The decline has mainly been caused by general habit changes of the population combined with more attractive products appearing on the market since the mid-90s, such as the internet and multimedia and more television channels."

Locals cold-shouldered

In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, the dominant Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger and Neue Zürcher Zeitung daily newspapers recently launched competing campaigns to win the hearts, minds and money of more rural readers who felt they had been overlooked by news content in the past.

Enter the new Sonntag, run by a regional newspaper publisher, which hopes to cash in on the disenchanted and previously cold-shouldered village readers. "People used to go to church on Sunday, now they read the newspaper," proclaimed Sonntag founder Peter Wanner.

Trappel also has higher hopes for Sonntag than for. ch. "There is room in the market for a regional Sunday newspaper because it gives a different, more local, offering than its established competitors," he said.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

Some 91.6% of all Swiss people read newspapers according to a recent survey by media consultants Wemf.
20 Minutes is the most read newspaper in the German-speaking region while another free daily, Le Matin Bleu, commands the highest circulation the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
Of the paid-for newspapers, the tabloid Blick leads the way followed by the Berner Zeitung, the Neue Zurcher Zeitung, the Neue Luzerner Zeitung and the Tages-Anzeiger.
SonntagsBlick, SonntagsZeitung and NZZ am Sonntag are the top three Sunday newspapers.
Weltwoche is the most read news magazine.

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