Swiss publishers stamp mark on Eastern Europe
Publishing has become one of Switzerland’s most successful exports to central and eastern Europe.
Despite difficult beginnings following fall of Communism, Ringier, Edipresse and Macquard Media have all managed to produce popular newspapers and magazines.
In the heart of the Czech capital, Prague, the imposing headquarters of the Ringier group stand out in a street lined with sombre buildings in need of renovation.
Inside, it is a hive of activity, with journalists, graphic designers and other employees working away on over ten different publications – all of them bestsellers in the Czech Republic.
Wild wild East
The Swiss publisher first came to Prague in 1990, immediately after the Velvet Revolution.
The Czech capital has subsequently become a springboard for Ringier’s activities in other central and eastern European nations – a region that used to be known as the ‘Wild East’ to Western investors.
“In these countries, you have to forget everything you learned in the past about market structures and so on,” Michael Ringier said 1997. “You just have to take a chance. You never know whether something will work out or not.”
Having for many years received more blank looks than congratulations, the Zurich press magnate now produces and distributes some 30 titles in five countries, ranging from daily newspapers and sports publications to women’s and youngster’s weeklies.
His tabloids, inspired by the Swiss market leader, “Blick”, head the sales rankings in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Before long, this may well be true of Serbia, too, where the Swiss group has just begun operations.
Mark Kohout, who is responsible for Ringier’s business development in central and eastern Europe, says success in the region depends on taking a long-term view.
“Ringier acquired these titles in order to establish something, not to resell them straight away and make a quick buck,” he observes.
It was not until 2000, after pouring in money for a decade, that the Ringier group finally became profitable.
And whereas the publishing market in the West is more than saturated, there is still plenty of room for growth in the East. Ringier expects foreign sales to account for half the group’s overall turnover in the next few years.
Having made exactly the same calculation, another Swiss publishing giant, Edipresse, has also branched out in the East – first in Poland in 1995, then in Romania, the Ukraine and Russia.
“From a cultural point of view, these countries are second to none,” says financial director, Christopher Bolton.
“Their average level of education is often higher than ours. But commercially, these are still underdeveloped areas with strong growth potential.”
Edipresse, which owns many daily newspapers in French-speaking Switzerland, has a number of successful titles in the region. The women’s magazine, “Przyjaciolka”, sells one million copies in Poland – the most competitive market in Eastern Europe.
“We are generally regarded as partners from a small, neutral country which is not trying to impose its ideas on anyone,” says Bolton.
“Only by trying to understand local cultures is it possible to be successful in countries like those of central and eastern Europe.”
This is the winning formula on which Edipresse is relying to stave off the competition, some of the fiercest of which is coming from Switzerland.
Yet another Swiss publisher, the Marquard Media group, is also active in the region.
Jürg Marquard, who is less well known in Switzerland, has carved out a share of the market in Hungary and Poland by publishing magazines for young people, men and women.
swissinfo, Armando Mombelli in Prague
Ringier’s turnover in 2002 amounted to SFr1 billion.
Some 27% of the group’s income came from foreign business.
Edipresse’s turnover last year was SFr700 million, with 36% of its sales made in foreign markets.
Marquard Media’s turnover in 2003 was SFr100 million.
During the 1990s, Ringier became one of the largest publishers in Central and Eastern Europe.
The group currently publishes some 30 daily newspapers and magazines in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Serbia.
Edipresse produces about 50 weekly and monthly magazines in four Eastern European countries: Poland, Romania, the Ukraine and Russia.
Marquard Media controls the licensing and production of about ten magazines in Poland and Hungary.
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