Hubert Burda on Bill Gates’ part in the launch of its digital legacy

When did it become clear that Hurbert Burda was going to have to make some serious moves into digital? (0:04)

There wasn’t a single point where we decided it is now time to go digital. In fact, it was more of a slow slide on the print side and for us it became clear over a number of years that we needed to fundamentally change the way we approached our businesses.

The positive here was that we started very early: we started in 1998. And I think it was basically Bill Gates and Burda sitting down and Bill Gates basically telling Hubert Burda that his business was very challenged in the longterm. So we started experimenting very early, we had some spectacular failures along the way, but we’ve had some very good successes along the way – and today 60 per cent of what we’re doing is actually in the digital realm. 

The Bill Gates contribution is very interesting – can you tell us a bit more? (0:43)

Well there was digital insight in the late 1990’s and I guess Bill Gates was one of the first ones to really understand where the internet was going and how challenging the dissemination of information, which was the business that we’re in. The question then was how in that scenario could a publisher still create new products and make money? And it was embracing digital technology that needed to happen. And Bill Gates was very clear about that in the 1990’s and then we acted as a company. We originally tried to bring the old business model online – I guess a lot of publishers have tried that. That never really really worked. Therefore we started investing in independent digital ventures and by now those make up the bulk of what we actually do at Burda.

And how successful has the switch to digital been? (1:27)

It’s really about being on every platform all of the time. So you need to be on all devices and in front of the consumer whenever you can. Again that is something that we started very early. For example if you look at 2005, we reached about 6 million people in Germany with news. Today we reach about 36 million people. So it’s a factor of six within 10 years. Now none of that growth has been in print. All of that growth has been in online. And Focus DE today is the largest German news website by a margin and we’ve pretty much built a completely new news distribution business. We were not on the map for news 10 years ago, we today are.

Finally, what do you see as the next step in your digital evolution? (2:08)

The digital evolution has very much been around the content. We believe the content is very important. But content serves a different purpose today. Content is not only about reading content but also about associating transactions with that content. Let me give you an example: we invested in a company in Chicago called Blitsy, and what they do is instructional videos about arts and crafts. So you basically have YouTube videos – and that is excellent content, but it is for people to learn about a new project in sewing, in knitting, in paper crafts, and then actually buy the material that they need to complete that project. So it becomes a combined transaction and content project. 

Hubert Burda Media is a member of FIPP.

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