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Feb. 11, 2016, 10:17 a.m.
Reporting & Production
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Can the Business Insider diet of irreverent, shareable finance and tech stories take off in Germany?

Business Insider Deutschland, one of eight other BI editions outside the U.S. and a growing part of the BI “international newsroom,” is doubling its staff and expanding original coverage.

Business Insider has come a long way in the U.S., and now it wants its name to travel even farther around the world.

While it’s not exactly a rags-to-riches story, BI’s rise from shaky digital startup to traffic powerhouse to its acquisition by Axel Springer fall of last year (at a valuation of $442 million) has the company taking a few well-deserved victory laps.

Business Insider Deutschland, which launched late last year on the heels of Axel Springer’s acquisition, started small.

The launch happened to take place on the November Monday after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The team regrouped, scrambled, and put together a listicle: how tech companies expressed their support in the aftermath of the attacks.

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“It is not the German way to brag about themselves,” said Business Insider president and COO Julie Hansen. She and BI Germany’s editor-in-chief Christin Martens (who came to BI from Axel Springer-owned tabloid Bild) spoke to me together after the launch of the site. “Christin and her team did a great job covering that news from a German business angle; they found a business lens while still keeping it contemporary.”

BI Germany started small, but didn’t need to start from scratch. The site is run in partnership with Finanzen.net, a German financial site also owned by Axel Springer. BI Germany borrows content from the U.S. site, Finanzen, and relies on a few additional freelancers, including one in New York who’s helping identify U.S. content that might work in the German market. The BI Germany team, with Martens at the helm, is up to five editors now, and is looking to hire three more, plus a social media manager. Amanda Macias, BI’s military and defense editor in the U.S., spent several weeks in Germany helping Martens with the launch, in addition to staff from Finanzen and other parts of Axel Springer.

The relationship with Finanzen is mutually beneficial, as the German portal now provides financial data for the real-time stock market quotes displayed on BusinessInsider.com pages.

Stories flow freely not just within the network BI sites but from other sites in the Axel Springer network, which include business and tech offerings that are oriented to younger audiences, like Die Welt’s Kompakt (as well as some content exchanges beyond the company). The U.S. edition, for instance, ran a translated version of Bild’s interview with Vladimir Putin last month. The overall aesthetic is the same across all BI sites — big pictures, big headlines, and plenty of 🔥.

“Multimedia of course plays a big role for our website — the American [BI] website does that very successfully, and we’ve pretty much learned from the best. You can’t succeed without these graphics, so we’re doing charts, images, video, and not just text,” Martens said. “We’re also able to profit from stories that run on the U.S. site, while still adding special value for the German readership. We try to keep a good balance.”

At the moment, about a quarter of stories produced out of the Karlsruhe offices where BI Germany is headquartered are original content, though the team is making a hiring push with a goal of hitting half original content this year. Original reporting from the German site is making its way onto the U.S. site: BI Germany interviewed former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis in English, for instance, and sent over the transcript in advance to the U.S. team, Macias told me.

“Now they’re conducting their own interviews, they can send over transcripts, they can send over content and original reporting they’ve done on the English side,” Macias said. “It’s really expanded our network, the international newsroom we want to become.”

Nine editions of Business Insider — both licensed and owned-and-operated sites — now exist worldwide, the latest being the English-language Business Insider Nordic. A Polish edition is promised in the coming months.

BI Germany is advertiser-supported. There could be opportunities down the line to expand subscription-based research service BI Intelligence, and requests for more European and Asian data are common, Hansen said, but the focus now is still to continue growing the site itself.

Germany hasn’t been the easiest place for this type of international expansion. The German spinoff of the U.K.’s Financial Times folded in 2012 after 12 years of losses. If the Business Insider diet of readable stories laid out over videos and GIFs and listicles was still rare when it was contemplating its entrance into the German market, it’s not such a novelty now. Financial daily newspaper Handelsblatt is a dominant player in business and economy coverage and now has its own digital spinoff targeted at younger audiences. BuzzFeed Deutschland has been a quiet presence for more than a year now. And a flood of other millennial-targeted digital news offerings have also sprung up, all competing for a share of younger, tech-savvy digital audiences.

Before launch, BI Germany ran campaigns on Facebook to narrow down categories of coverage for the site and to figure out how to navigate a voice that both captured the overall BI style and worked within the German language (which distinguishes between an informal address and a formal address). During those tests, the team posted to Facebook pieces from the BI U.S. site that had performed well, with the headlines translated, and noted which broad categories tended to catch people’s interest, where readers were based, and so forth. “Strategy,” for instance, emerged as one of the popular categories, Macias and Martens told me: readers were particularly interested in stories covering issues such as personal productivity, job interview advice, and career mistakes. At the time of publication of this story, the Business Insider Deutschland Facebook page had over 78,000 likes.

Similar to the rest of BI’s sites, the German readership clusters around 18- to 34-year-olds and is 60 to 70 percent male, but the team is hoping to wrestle down that percentage to 50 percent.

“It’s been exciting to work for a site that has been so successful in explaining tough stories on tough topics,” Martens said. “One of my major focuses is trying to get more young people interested in business and finance and the economy. I’d be very happy to achieve that.”

Photo in Karlsruhe by Michael, used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Feb. 11, 2016, 10:17 a.m.
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