Interview with Reiner Mittelbach and Manfred Werfel
On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the newspaper, newspaper techniques conducted an interview with Reiner Mittelbach, CEO, Ifra, and Manfred Werfel, Research Director and Deputy CEO of Ifra, about the relevance of this historical event and the pressing questions of the future.
Interview with Reiner Mittelbach
newspaper techniques: What is the significance of the “400 Years Newspaper” anniversary for Ifra?
Reiner Mittelbach: 400 years of the newspaper is for us an occasion, as is common practice with anniversaries, to look back over the past, and above all to look towards the future. To begin with, it can be stated that the newspaper is undoubtedly the most durable media product. And this is so because it has always changed in the course of its many years in existence and adapted to suit the requirements of the time. The newspaper repeatedly re-invented itself during the 400 years. And this brings me to the look into the future, as that is what is on the agenda at many newspapers today. We conclude that everything has changed during these 400 years, either as a result of developments in society, or global orientation of our actions, or technology. And naturally with these influencing factors also the business models.
We have ourselves been active in this environment for only just over 40 years and have had to permanently change, and continue to do so. Printing by itself is no longer enough. The trend towards individualisation calls for correspondingly individually matched media offerings. This young development, compared to 400 years of newspapers, shows how exciting and challenging today’s newspaper is. We as Ifra want to help our members meet these demands.
Against this background, the question as to exactly how old the newspaper is, is of secondary importance. In1989, newspaper techniques published findings according to which the first printed newspaper made its appearance in 1600. There are even pointers towards the year 1597 in which a first monthly newspaper was published. What is important for us in this anniversary year is to learn from the history of the newspaper for the future of newspaper publishing houses.
nt: How much longer will the printed newspaper continue to exist?
Reiner Mittelbach: Just as lead or hot-metal composition died out, the accompanying letterpress newspaper printing method has been replaced by the offset process. Later on, there came the long-awaited full-page output and as a consequence the end of film with Computer to Plate. Today, the objective for the former newspaper publishing houses that have become media houses is to position themselves in the modern, multimedia environment. This includes the main business “print medium”, but also covers all other modern media, nearly all electronic media including mobile services.
History shows that no new medium has ever replaced an old one, but also that all newer media have found their place in the media landscape. In the past, neither radio nor TV have succeeded in pushing aside the newspaper; on the contrary, media consumption has grown and thus created the necessary space for the newer media. That is still true today.
I believe that all media undeniably have their specific strengths, though also weaknesses, in relation to the customers, i.e. the media consumers.
The printed newspaper will continue to exist for as long as publishing houses are capable of adapting the printed newspaper to meet the requirements of a changing market. And it is not the publishing houses that decide which concepts will survive, but rather the readers.
nt: In which areas must the newspaper industry re-think its concepts?
Reiner Mittelbach: We are at present experiencing a phase of re-orientation. Many new types of titles are emerging and being tested on the market. The switch from broadsheet to tabloid is only the tip of the iceberg. Farther down are new approaches to target groups, marketing concepts and business ideas. Our magazine, newspaper techniques, has reported extensively on this. Newspapers have recognised that it is the reader who counts. One very important question in this connection is, just who is the reader? In a media industry that is characterised by convergent technologies and divergent customer behaviour, media houses must segment their customers in order to give the individual reader the information that he wants in the most demanding cases 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is just as important to let the consumer know which offerings the media houses provide to cover the information needs. Both are a major challenge, as the newspaper usually represents a mass medium.
I am convinced that the media houses that manage to create close ties to their customers in the sense described above will also be able to attract advertising customers.
What is important is the realisation that it is both the customers, therefore the reader, and the advertiser who decide the success or otherwise of new media concepts. For this reason, today’s media offerings are more individual. The newspaper, that can equally serve all age categories from 8 to 88 years and all sectors of the population, will undoubtedly have a somewhat hard time of it in the future.
nt: Which developments in the media publishing area do you see as sustainable?
Reiner Mittelbach: The internet is barely 10 years old and has already had its first euphoric phase with subsequent deep depression. Mobile data services are just at the beginning of their development. TV is a difficult market for newspapers. The situation is somewhat better as regards radio.
In the past, newspaper publishing houses often reacted to new media by attempting to become involved at any price in order to avoid missing the boat. If this is done without a considered business model, the outcome can be a great deal of lost money. Today we know, especially from examples from the U.S.A., that regional newspapers can indeed earn money with new media. The Americans were much faster in recognising the business opportunities offered by the new media and acted proactively as opposed to reactively. The same applies in relation to many media houses in Northern Europe.
But there are no generally applicable recipes. Cultural differences and the range of media offerings vary too much. The same is valid and applies in relation to the proliferation of corresponding technology. Various business models covering multiple media will develop, depending on the economic-cultural environment and the strengths of the media house concerned in its area of distribution. This is where I see a role for Ifra. Due to our global presence, we come quickly into contact with every different type of business model and use our platforms to try to make these accessible to a broad group of media houses. Right now, in our E-News project, we are investigating which sustainable business models are under development. This applies both for already known mobile services as well as for E-Ink technology and E-Reader that is based on it.
Interview with Manfred Werfel
newspaper techniques: Which technical development has most influenced the newspaper industry in the last 20 years?
Manfred Werfel: In general, it can be stated that all technical production processes have very much grown together. It is difficult to say today where prepress stops and printing begins. And the fact that the printing process and the mailroom constitute a unit has almost become a matter of course.
If the idea is to go into detail, I would maintain that filmless platemaking by CTP was decisive in the prepress environment. In printing, single-drive technology replaced the drive shaft, a development that provided the basis for many press improvements. Both developments occurred within just a few years. And the mailroom urgently needs a new name, as its addition of many new functions have made it into a “finishing department;” in other industries, it would probably be referred to in terms of a final assembly point, as it is there that the finished newspaper product is assembled from its individual parts.
Today’s newspaper production is a highly automated process. Modern paper reel management systems offer a perfect example for this.
nt: Will digital printing ever play an important role in newspaper production?
Manfred Werfel: You could put a sarcastic spin on the question: will digital printing ever play a role? Of course, digital printing has major technical potential. This holds true also for newspaper printing where regionalised and personalised small or part-circulations are concerned. Technically, several options are conceivable. But as long as the unit costs remain as they are, due to the material costs for ink and toner, it is difficult to realise such concepts. Ifra organised a major conference on digital printing as far back as 2001. Unfortunately, little has happened since then to make the use of digital printing in the newspaper an economically interesting prospect outside of niche areas.
In most cases today, it is a matter of technical innovations looking for markets. Here we have the unusual case of an existing need but no technical-economic solution.
nt: Already years ago you called for an industrialisation of newspaper production. How much longer will we have to wait for this to come about?
Manfred Werfel: The industrialisation of newspaper production is a process that we are at present experiencing. The automation phase has already reached a high level. Now attention is being focused on the integrated control of the overall process. It is a fact that reproduction specialists and printers in many cases continue to work like craftsmen in an environment that calls for industrial, automatically controlled processes.
How can it be that it depends on the industriousness and skill of an operator whether the 200 CTP plates that are output per hour by a highly automated system will be good for more than 10,000 impressions? How can it be that a printer has to manually measure the colour density, supposing that he finds the time to do so and a suitable place on the page? Ifra confronted such questions in research projects in recent years. The result was that systems can be realised that are capable of taking over such basic production control and quality assurance functions. In the meantime, there are also products that realise these ideas in practice.
On the agenda now is the integrated and intelligent control of the total system. Ifra is at present conducting a further research project on this topic.
Page first published: 28.06.2005