Paper-Bound European Publishers Stick a Toe into the Internet German Publishing Giant Enlists America Online to Get Wired

Article excerpt

ONE would be tempted to call Bertelsmann AG a microcosm of the German publishing industry. But with total annual revenue pushing $15 billion worldwide, Bertelsmann is too big to be a micro-anything. And besides, this corporate giant, the largest publisher in the world, prefers to think of itself as a European-American media company.

Still, like countless other German publishers, Bertelsmann is firmly anchored in traditional publishing - books were its most profitable sector for the year ending in June - but it has also reached out into electronic publishing.

Its new joint venture with America Online, aimed at bringing a version of that popular on-line service to Germany, is currently being field-tested and should be officially launched by the end of November.

America Online, known as AOL, will be challenging CompuServe, now the leading on-line service in Europe. (AOL recently leapfrogged over CompuServe in the United States to become the nation's leading on-line service.)

More competition for the European market is on the way from Europe Online, a joint venture involving Matra Hachette of France, Burda of Germany, and Pearson of Britain. Europe Online, with a blue logo that evokes the gold-stars-on-blue logo of the European Union, is to be launched around the same time as AOL.

Will this be at least two more on-line services than the European market is ready to absorb?

Most Europeans are not yet very "interactive" in the use of their computers and tend to be "passive" in their TV viewing habits, noted Adam Daum of Inteco, a British market-research firm, during a recent seminar for publishers here. …