After years of talks of crisis, displacement and inevitable death of the daily newspaper, someone in Austria is making newspapers and printing presses sexy again. Tomorrow September 1st, a new generalist paid-for national daily newspaper will be launched there, called Oesterreich (that's German for Austria), with an online twin called Oe24.
Austria is a small country of 8 million mostly German-speaking people, so this may seem just a local event. However, with the exception of the recent free dailies phenomenon - and of Spain's El Mundo, started in 1990 - the last season that saw significant launches of generalist daily newspapers in Western Europe was the 1970s (Spain's El Pais and Italy's La Repubblica in 1976, Germany's Tageszeitung in 1979 - I'm talking about those that still exist today: many others came and went).
Now Wolfgang Fellner, arguably Austria's most successful publisher of the last decades (News magazine), is preparing to launch a very ambitious new paper to be published seven days a week. He has raided newsrooms for talent, hiring - according to a recent Spiegel story (not available online) - 180 journalists. He has raised 70 million euros. Those who have seen the test issues talk of an innovative newspaper formula that is a mix of everything: national and local; serious and lifestyle/tabloid; women's and sport's and politics' paper; daily and magazine. Aimed at the 20-40 years-old (those who are not supposed to read newspapers anymore) and making generous use of the possibilities of the Internet to extend content and interact with readers, Oesterreich may be a genius move, or an idiocy, depending on how you look at paper as a carrier of news, information and entertainment in today's media world.
Fellner hopes to print 250'000 copies during the week and 600'000 on Sundays (that's 40% of the New York Times' Sunday circulation, in tiny Austria) and has had a manufacturer develop a special printing press for this project, capable of handling simultaneously different kinds of paper - so that the third section, devoted to lifestyle, can be printed on glossy paper in order to properly carry the ads that usually don't go into daily newspapers (fashion, cosmetics, etc).
Whether Oesterreich will succeed is anybody's guess, but the move is courageous, the man is a serious newspapermaker and marketer ("The Mozart of marketing" is the headline of the Spiegel story) and he has already managed, prior to launch, to stir up the Austrian media and advertising world ("Like avian flu in a chicken farm", wrote the Journalist magazine). Needless to say, every European publisher is keeping an eye on it: if he succeeds, expect a publishing frenzy.
UPDATE 1 Sept - The front page above is that of today's first issue of Oesterreich.