German newspaper sales stabilize as readers pay online

FRANKFURT/BERLIN (Reuters) - German newspaper revenues stabilized in 2014 after years of decline as publishers compensated for falling advertising sales by persuading more readers to pay for news online.

Total revenues fell 0.6 percent to 7.76 billion euros ($8.57 billion) in Europe's biggest newspaper market, the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) said, compared with a 4.4 percent decline in 2013.

The BDZV said it expected stable revenues again this year.

The industry in North America and Europe is beginning to recover from a crisis that began with the rise of the consumer Internet in the late 1990s, which made free online news widely available and encouraged many readers to stop buying newspapers.

After a painful consolidation that saw titles from the Rocky Mountain News to the Financial Times Deutschland go out of business, newspapers such as the New York Times or Bild have managed to build up a paying audience online.

Advertising, which generated up to 80 percent of newspapers' revenues last century, now generates less than half the global industry's $179 billion in sales, according to the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers.

The BDZV said about a third of Germany's over 300 daily titles were now attracting paying readers of online news, helped by the growing popularity of smartphone and tablet apps that present news in an attractive way to consumers on the go.

"People understand that good journalism has a price also on the Internet," said BDVZ board member Hans-Joachim Fuhrmann.

Circulation of so-called e-papers rose 30 percent to 733,000 in the first quarter of 2015, accounting for more than 10 percent of all circulation at national newspapers.

Axel Springer, publisher of best-selling European tabloid Bild, is now in preliminary talks to be acquired by broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 as the two old-media firms may seek to combine their burgeoning digital expertise.

Bild had 258,000 paying online subscribers at the end of the first quarter, compared with 2.22 million copies sold of its print edition, and Springer is compensating for the decline in print classified ads by buying a stable of classified web sites.

Overall, German newspapers' advertising revenue fell 3.5 percent to 2.99 billion euros in 2014 but combined circulation revenues from print and online rose 1.3 percent to 4.76 billion.

(Reporting by Harro ten Wolde and Klaus Lauer, editing by David Evans)