Urs Gossweiler, publisher of Jungfrau Zeitung, thinks LOCAL is the key for the future of the newspapers. The search engine launched by the Swiss company for its 45.000 inhabitants community has been welcomed by readers and advertisers.
IFRA: Jungfrau Zeitung has created a search engine focused on local. Could you explain to us in detail what the concept is behind it and how it works?
Urs Gossweiler: The concept behind it is very logical and easy. We have taken all the content we have created in the past 10 years and brought into the search engine. When I say all the content, I really mean it. It is not only news and editorial information that you can find there but also the commercial content, the advertising. If a person makes a search in our engine, what is found is all the material we have created for the different channels regarding this topic. So, with just a search term, the user can have a very precise idea of what is going on related to this area. For instance, if you search for a town in our community area, you will get news that has happened there, but also you will see which flats and cars are for sale, which people have died in the town (obituaries)... The basic model of our engine is ”search and find,” because this is the business model of Google, and what Google does is selling ads in a good environment, exactly the same as we do as publishers. But there is a difference between our search engine and Google, which is we are based on local, with no global content like Google has. But our advantage is that our links never bring you to a dead end or wrong place when you are doing local enquiries, which happens sometimes with Google.
We started our search engine around a month ago, and it is already successful. When we go to an advertiser to sell an ad, we offer a space in the print product (Editor’s note: Jungfrau Zeitung is also a printed publication that appears twice per week), which is what newspapers have been doing for 100 years. They like this proposal, but nowadays they do not find it enough. We also offer them the possibility to appear on our website and on the mobile channel, and they definitely find these possibilities interesting. But when we tell them that their ad will be displayed every time a user makes a search regarding a topic that has to do with the content of the ad, then the advertisers start to see a real value of this offer of a space in the printed page. So the search engine is a very strong tool for selling traditional advertising.
IFRA: Do you offer all these extras to your printed ads for the same price that advertisers used to pay for a printed ad, or have you increased prices?
Urs Gossweiler: We are offering all these possibilities for the same price as we used to for two reasons. The first one is a marketing reason: we are not a monopoly in our region, so with this strategy we can get more market share. The second reason is an internal one: all our production, organisation, publishing systems... are web based. Therefore, we do not have extra work to do for offering these extras, so we do not charge for them.
IFRA: How difficult has been indexing your content from the past 10 years to make them available in the search engine? How has this work been done?
Urs Gossweiler: The most important thing is to have integrated publishing and advertising systems that are web based. To bring the contents that are there to the customers is just a question of design and confection. So, it is quite easy to do that if you have an existing database. A lot of publishing houses have databases for prepress data, with InDesign, Quark and PDF files, which you cannot use for a ‘search and find’ engine, on one side, and text databases, on the other, with the commercial stuff. So it will be difficult to bring those different content types together in the search engine platform. And, in my opinion, this is exactly what we need to do: bringing editorial and commercial content together in the same platform, which at the end has been our business in print, as newspapers, for hundreds of years. On the website, many publishers have different platforms for the marketplace area, as they have close alliances with other brands... But this is, in our opinion, wrong.
IFRA: Do you also provide local directories and include services from your geographical reach as a kind of Yellow Pages for the area?
Urs Gossweiler: We had a lot of internal discussions about this topic when we decided to launch a search strategy. It would have been relatively easy to also launch directories for our area as in our country you can buy these data from the national telecom provider. But we decided not to do it, because the classical directories are very well regarded in Switzerland, and we did not think we could compete with them. What we wanted is a search engine to find content that is based on our newspaper, as we have so much content for the region. So, our strategy is to make sure that if someone wants to appear in our search engine, they have to have advertised with us. It is a kind of "club,” join us and you will get so much display for your ad.
IFRA: When a search is done with your engine, which kind of content is analysed and given back (only content, also photos and videos, directories...)?
Urs Gossweiler: If you go on our platform www.jungfrauzeitung.ch  and search for Interlaken, for instance, which is an area of our region, you will get all the news about Interlaken, all the commercials about Interlaken, and other specific content about this area, such as houses to buy, people who have recently died in this area... The layout is very clearly differentiated, so the user sees immediately what is information and what is commercial content, but both categories are just one click away from each other. And there you find text, pictures, logos, videos and everything that belongs to a story or advertising that has to do with Interlaken. Everything is integrated in our "search and find” solution.
IFRA: What kind of external sources did you integrate? What kind of partnerships did you build to become THE search engine of your area?
Urs Gossweiler: We do not use any external sources, just content that belongs to the Jungfrau Zeitung. Neither have we made any partnership with any other search engine. The good thing is that we have 10 years worth of content about a region of around 45,000 inhabitants. For instance, let’s say I do a search about the Basque city of Bilbao, where you are from, the results only show me two hits. In the past 10 years something has joined your city with this Swiss community. So, as you see, we are not an alternative to Google. We will never be, and we do not even want to be. Sure, our users also use Google, probably more often than our platform, but every time they look for something in our region, they resort to our search engine. And every time they do it, they help us to bring advertising to our platform instead to Google. And this is what is very important for us: retaining all these small local advertisers that have been our partners for many years, and they do not see a need to go to Google.
IFRA: Why did Jungfrau Zeitung decide to start its own search engine when many other attempts have ended with non satisfactory results?
Urs Gossweiler: If you have a search platform as itself and you present it as an alternative to Google, then you will have troubles, because it is too expensive to compete in such a league. You can’t beat Google being a national player. If you do it in a local level, as we did, bringing all the content we had created in the past 10 years in a comfortable way to the users, then you are offering something interesting for your community at nearly no cost for your company and with some advantages because people who search with our engine usually read other parts of the site and as advertisers remain loyal to us. So, the way we see it is that we get many advantages for no cost, so it would be silly not to try it. Many publishers tried to be a national alternative to Google, but this has not really functioned. Others think that because they can not beat Google, it is better not to do anything in the search field. I think both strategies are wrong.
IFRA: What kind of human and financial resources does such a project require?
Urs Gossweiler: With the exception of the developers, who are the only people who work only for the search engine, we don’t have dedicated staff for it. Therefore, it is very important that every editor invest a minute after writing the story putting the rubrics, the channels, keywords, archives preferences... If this is done properly, the whole system works properly.
As for the financial investments, since our first online presence in 1995, we have counted with a development budget for these matters. So, in the past 15 years we have invested around 20 million Swiss francs (approximately 13.17 million euros), which is quite a lot. We have logged 15 million from this 20 mentioned, as we have third-party partners because our software development works also for other companies with similar needs. That is the reason why a small newspaper like us can bring so much money into our development department. Therefore, our investments have been done steadily, and it is difficult to quantify what has been used for each project.
IFRA: You have already explained your advertising strategy regarding your products. But do you also offer some services under premium paid conditions for users of your search engine?
Urs Gossweiler: I like to refer to my great-grandfather, who was the first publisher in our family. In 1907, he bought the local newspaper here, and at that time people paid a subscription to cover the printing and delivery costs of the newspaper. So, in our family history, people never paid for our content but just for the production and delivery of this content. So, if I bring that to the web, where people do not want to pay for the content and where the delivery costs are on the user’s side, I do not see a reason to have premium or paid services. It is different if you are in the printing business and not in the publishing system. If we would have to buy a rotary press that costs a lot of money, we would have to charge in our paper subscription these costs. But if we are not in this situation, and we are just in the publishing industry, then we can resort to the traditional advertising business model. I think the only content you can ask money for, is the one that affects you, because it is exclusive. You might be willing to pay for getting information about your hobby or about yourself. And in fact, Google has been the first "media" company -if I can use this term- that could offer you writing your name and finding information about yourself. So, Google could ask money for this kind of content, but they do not do it, because they know people are not willing to pay on the Internet, and prefer to base their business just on advertising. I do not think that we can be successful where Google itself does not try to be. In fact, most newspapers content is based on news, nothing exclusive, so it is very difficult to make people pay for it. I don’t believe in paid content, neither in closing the archives of the newspapers. Search and find, in the way we do it, is nothing other than a free archive. And with it you can sell advertising in a better way.
IFRA: In the way you have described the ad-selling, I suppose you have just one team that sells the whole package...
Urs Gossweiler: Yes, absolutely. Otherwise it would not be possible. In our company, you have different kind of ads but not different kind of platforms. We have the classical printed ads, which in our case can be displayed, like in print, also in smartphones, like the iPhone, and on the web. So we can not separate this ad for the print, for the web, for the mobile... It is the same ad that appears in different platforms. It is really interesting to see how a traditional printed ad can be displayed so nicely in these new platforms... even the smallest ads can be read without problems and function very well. It is fantastic. The only difference between the ad in printed paper and in the mobile or the web, is that in those new platforms we incorporate a link to the site of the advertiser. So, this is a job that is done in our ad production centre. We also offer wallpaper ads, which logically are only to be sold for the mobile and web platforms, and web TV spots. All the other advertising types are available for all our platforms.
Regarding the classifieds, we have a special treatment for them. We publish them in print exactly in the shape and style we get them from the advertiser, with the logo, a photo of the item to be sold, whatever... But we input the text of the ad in our database, so the information can be searched for. This is extra work that has to be done to make the best of our search engine. Google, for instance, decides in favour of getting only text-based ads that can be searched, but therefore, the advertisers cannot bring their own corporate design into Google. The ads on Google are just database ads.
So, to answer to your question, yes, we have a unique sales team that goes out to the customers and explains to them the different channels in which the ad will appear, how many readers we have in each channel, the costs...
IFRA: You have just mentioned the readers for every channel. What kind of technology are you relying on for advertising and web analytics?
Urs Gossweiler: We rely on the data from the Swiss Audit Bureau of Circulation, which are much respected in this country.
IFRA: Since 2000, your company has won new local advertisers without stop. What has been the impact of your search engine in local advertising terms? Can you give us some figures or examples related to new clients?
Urs Gossweiler: Even in 2009. I have just got the figures for the first semester of the year and although the growth is not big as in past years, we are still growing. We have around 2 percent more than last year, which I guess is around 30 percent more than our direct competitors. That is not bad. I think this have to do with our multimedia strategy and with the fact that our sales department really goes out to our customers and shows them what can be done in all our platforms. We still have many customers who really want to be in the print product and find it just a nice little extra to be in other platforms for the same price, but print is their priority. However, we have more and more advertisers who are just interested in the mobile and web, and find it a nice extra to be on paper for the same price. So, the newspaper is more and more coming at the end of our conversations, but still the printed paper is very strong. So no wonder that even Google seem to be interested in acquiring printed newspapers and have just postponed this interest in the hope of getting a better price for their bid.
We cannot yet prove with figures how the search engine has helped us to continue having a growing advertising income, but our feeling is that it has already helped, and this feeling is based in the discussions our sales team has with our customers. We think the search engine is very powerful tool. Even if the search and find possibility would not become a success among our readers, it would still be a good marketing tool for selling ads. To make ads appear in an environment that fits it content-wise is a great added value for their advertisers.
Google is currently offering in Switzerland to all the companies coupons for the value of 100 Swiss francs (approximately 66 euros) to advertise within the Google environment. And this campaign is being successful. This is why we have to have a presence and image in our market. If a company comes to Jungfrau Zeitung with its budget, they can make sure that the company ad will appear in the printed paper, on the website, on the mobile, in the search engine environment... And this is very important.
IFRA: Is your search engine available on mobile phones?
Urs Gossweiler: I’ll be honest with you. Our mobile channel has only been working since the 26th of June, so only a week. We are not really pioneers in this area, because we have arrived to this platform quite late. The reason for it is that we did not want to be in this environment just with the same news we have in our site. We wanted to offer something else. We wanted to bring all our content to the mobile, obituaries, classified ads, agenda... The specific search and find feature was a challenge when wanting to have it also on the phone, due to space limitations and so on. But now it is working, and we will see how it develops.
IFRA: Search engines like Google have capitalised on the content originated by organisations like newspapers. Is it too late for newspapers to try to recover this area?
Urs Gossweiler: The problem is not a question of being too late or not, but of having a specific content and concept behind that suits the search function. If a newspaper offers national and international content in its search engine, it will have to compete with Google and Co., and this is very difficult. We have our specific local content, so people know they will not find many things about the outside world in the search engine of Jungfrau Zeitung, but yes, a lot of things about the local community, about their home town. I think local is the key for the future of newspaper. I think the Yellow Pages business cannot easily be transported to the website, as there are no specific geographic frontiers on Internet. To construct these frontiers, you need the help of editorial content, and that is where newspapers are in a very good position, but they have to start now if they want to have success.