Custom Newspapers from German StartupChristopher Lawton
At a time when more readers are going online to get their news and German newspapers are struggling under declining ad revenues, a new Berlin-based company announced its plan to beat the odds with a customizable newspaper venture last week.
Niiu is a daily newspaper that mixes news pages and information of the reader's choice from 17 different German and international newspapers and several Web sites. Co-founded by entrepreneurs Wanja Oberhof and Hendrik Tiedemann, Niiu allows readers to customize their own 24-page daily newspaper online from German newspapers including tabloid Bild, the Berlin dailies Berliner Morgenpostand Der Tagesspiegel as well as financial paper Handelsblatt and others.
Papers from overseas, such as The New York Times (NYT) and the Washington Times, have also signed on. Readers can also choose to include content from 500 Web sites that span topics such as sports, politics, music and art. Customers who sign onto the Niiu.de Web site before 2 p.m. can build their own newspaper—although they are limited to choosing specific pages and sections and cannot select individual stories. The customized paper is then printed and delivered the next day.
Can Young Readers Be Coaxed Away from the Internet?
Oberhof, 23, shrugs off concerns that now is a tough time to launch a new print newspaper, adding that readers and in particular advertisers are very interested in Niiu because it combines the strengths of newspapers and the Internet.
The biggest challenge Niiu faces may be getting young people to read print newspapers. Joachim Blum, a former newspaper man and current digital media consultant, said he has "considerable doubts" about Niiu's prospects for success. While the idea of personalization is interesting, Blum says, it won't work on paper, simply because the students and other young readers that Niiu wants to reach have left paper behind. "I would try to reach this generation—generation iPhone and generation laptop—on their media not on paper...People who read newspapers are office workers, not students," he says.
But Oberhof argues that it offers precisely the mix that could prove attractive to advertisers. Niiu, he says, has "the credibility of newspaper advertising and the targeting that only the Internet is known for." Roughly two pages in each issue will be reserved for advertising that will be sold by Niiu.
The first daily issue of Niiu is scheduled for delivery on Nov. 16, and will only be available in Berlin. Newspaper delivery will be available Monday through Saturday at a cost of €1.80 ($2.67) or €1.20 for students per copy—no more expensive than the average traditional German newspaper at newsstands.
Oberhof, 23, says he came up with the idea two and a half years ago after he took notice of his own reading habits. Growing up in a traditional newspaper-reading household, Oberhof says he was always accustomed to purusing several different national and international publications such as Bild, SPIEGEL ONLINE, Handelsblatt, and The New York Times.
A 'More Comfortable News Medium'
"I asked myself, why can't I have all that in one daily newspaper tomorrow morning?" Oberhof told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Because of that, I had the idea: I wanted an individualized newspaper." While surfers can easily cobble together various news sources online through diverse Internet feeds, Oberhof says he learned from peer groups that paper was the more comfortable news medium.
Around the same time he met Tiedemann, 27, through a mutual friend and found that both shared the same idea. The two young entrepreneurs decided to work together, and over the next two years Oberhof and Tiedemann began to build InterTi GmbH, Niiu's mother company.
Convincing publishers to sign onto Niiu proved to be the most difficult aspect of the launch, Oberhof says—especially when it came to Berlin-based and German papers. The fear, he says, was that by offering up pages to Niiu, they would cannibalize their own sales. Notably, two of Germany's most prestigious national dailies, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Süddeutsche Zeitung, have not yet signed on. In Berlin, one of the city's three leading local newspapers—the Berliner Zeitung—is also missing. By contrast, the international newspapers were easier to convince, Oberhof added.
Since making a formal launch announcement, Oberhof has already received queries from other newspapers expressing an interest. As the selection grows, Oberhof hopes that readership will too. The company has set a goal of acquiring 5,000 readers within its first six months of publishing.
Unusual for the world of start-ups, Niiu has no outside investors. Instead the venture was funded by co-founder Tiedemann. Oberhof says for now they are happy they were able to build and launch Niiu without outside financing, but they are open to the idea of inviting strategic partners to join, especially as they expand Niiu to other cities and countries, a goal he hopes to achieve soon.
"If it works in Berlin, why wouldn't it work in Vienna, Paris and London," says Oberhof.