Stern’s Website operates as a personalised news service, e-mailing
users with information tailored to individual requirements. By Steve
The magazine, Stern, was always popular at school. Not so much because
of any enthusiasm for modern languages, but more because, along with
Paris Match, it was the best chance of a glimpse of nipple this side of
National Geographic. Outside British schools, its blend of populist
journalism, TV coverage and personality articles plus the odd areola -
has made it one of the most popular leisure titles in Europe, with
around 8 million readers.
Stern On-Line takes that winning formula on to the Internet, re-focusing
the magazine’s content by using a range of technologies to convey the
freshness and elan of the original. Clever use of Java applets,
intelligent agents, animations and e-mail mailing lists have helped to
build it into one of Germany’s three most-visited Net sites.
’It is hard to compare traffic with precision,’ Ulrich Hegge, the
managing director of Stern On-Line, comments, ’because everyone measures
traffic in different ways.
But we have 170,000 to 180,000 visitors every month looking at 700,000
pages. I should point out that, being German, those figures are very
Much of the reason for that success is that Stern did not set out merely
to establish a Web presence. The aim was to add value for readers and
advertisers. ’We offer two principal services,’ Hegge explains. ’First,
we have access to our archives - that’s done directly by linking the Web
server to the archive servers on our own system. For full text retrieval
from the complete archives we charge a fee, because the users are mainly
media professionals, but the Web service allows people comprehensive
access to recent issues. It works as a taster and leads to a lot of
customers signing up for the full service.
’The second service we created was the TV Agent. You type in the name of
an actor or actress you like, or your particular hobby or interest, and
the search engine checks the Web for information on them,’ Hegge
In addition, an e-mail back service will read the TV listings each week
and check for the names you’ve specified. Tell it that you’ve got the
hots for Michelle Pfeiffer, for example, and it will e-mail you in the
morning to say she’s in a film that evening, along with the time and
It’s such a popular service that Hegge has extended it. ’You can create
a profile by a simple keyword, or you can generate a more complete
profile saying what channels you get, what time you watch, and so on,’
The benefits are twofold. For the reader, the e-mail reminders are
relevant and timely, while the magazine and its advertisers get
increasingly detailed information about readers’ tastes. ’We offer
something to the readers, but we also get data on what interests them,’
Hegge adds. Customer profiles are held anonymously to ensure the
confidence of subscribers, so readers don’t have to be bashful about
declaring their undying admiration for the Teutonic equivalent of
’Advertisers are very interested in what we’re doing, and we have
followed it up with services such as the personalised home page,’ Hegge
says. ’This is very close to the idea of a ’Daily me’ news service. You
choose the content you want to see - which also tells us what people are
interested in - and we build up a page to suit them. We also have e-mail
newsletters on fitness, travel, business, finance and computer news.
Because of the data we can provide on our readership, we find that
advertisers are much more willing to book space.’
Stern On-Line doesn’t just generate revenue for its paper sibling - it
also takes ads directly. ’We have about 120 companies that regularly
place ads on the site - usually German companies, like Siemens Nixdorf.
Ad revenues are still small compared with the magazine, but last year we
generated DM500,000 (around pounds 184,000) - not bad considering our
production costs are pretty low,’ Hegge claims.
There have been a couple of surprises for the publishers. ’We expected
our NetScan page to be a real hit. It is a thoroughly researched guide
to the Net and it’s updated weekly. We fully expected it to be the
number-one seller. Instead we found that excerpts from the magazine were
most in demand. Stern is an illustrated magazine, so the online version
with small photos and lots of text isn’t really in the spirit of the
The pictures, incidentally, aren’t just small to allow rapid loading.
’We would like to have much better quality pictures online, but it’s not
possible. Our photographers demand a lot of money for electronic rights,
so the problem is not just technical but financial,’ Hegge explains.
To compensate for the low level of graphics, the Stern team have raided
the online gadgets box.
Animations in ShockWave (software which allows fluid character
animations and can be downloaded quickly) bring sound and movement to
games pages and interactive promotions such as the ’Johnny Walker quest
for the end of the Net’.
Extensive use of Java (a programming language which enables applets and
full animations which run locally) enables ticker-tape style banner ads,
as well as the ’cockpit’ navigational device.
It makes for a lively site, but Hegge admits it is a hefty lump to
download and there are plans to slim it down. There are also plans for a
general facelift in about six weeks, as part of the policy of
maintaining its lead in the German market.
And the nipples? Well, schoolboys of every age will be reassured to know
that www.stern.de does include an Erotika page with hot links to such
delights as Naomi Campbell’s world of sensuality. New technology, new
media, new possibilities, but it’s nice to know some things never
This article was first published on Campaign