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Market Concentration and Ownership

The concern about media concentration is ultimately about the decrease in pluralism and diversity of public debate. Two measures for the concentration of newspaper markets will be considered here: The proportion of circulation shared by top newspapers and concentration of ownership. Circulation concentration is higher in Germany than in the United States: In 2009, the top three daily newspapers shared 22.5 percent of the total average sold circulation. This is mainly due to the dominance of Bild with an average weekday circulation of 3.18 million copies in that year. The top eight newspapers shared 30.8 percent of the total circulation (IVW 2016; WAN 2010).13 In the United States in 2009, the top three papers shared 10.5 percent of the total circulation and the top eight 16.4 percent of it (Calderone 2009; WAN 2010).14 No newspaper in the United States has comparable dominance as Bild, with the top circulating Wall Street Journal slightly over two million and USA Today’s slightly under. Hence, the US newspaper market is less concentrated than the German newspaper market with regard to circulation.

Regarding media ownership, there are different measures available in Germany and the United States. Since few German publishers are public companies, they do not report annual revenues in contrast to most US newspaper publishers. One alternative is the total average sold circulation of each publisher (composed of all newspapers it owns). The World Association of Newspapers (2010) reported that the top ten newspaper publishing houses in Germany together shared 94 percent of the total daily newspaper circulation of 13 million in 2008. Axel Springer AG alone held 32 percent of those, which means 4.25 million copies per day.15 US newspaper publishers are ranked according to revenues generated. The top ten companies shared 41 percent of overall revenues and the biggest newspaper publishing house, Gannett, only 8 percent ($4.6 billion) of the $55 billion overall (ibid.).16

Of course, these measures only approximate the power balance within each media system. The influence of News Corp, for instance, is much greater than this ranking suggests (eighth in terms of its share of the US newspaper market). Germany’s population is a fourth of the United States and so is the number of its newspapers. Furthermore, there is some discordance in media scholarship regarding how strongly media concentration, in fact, restricts the autonomy of individual news organizations.17

Most of the newspapers represented in Albany are owned by publicly traded companies, and most of those represented in Munich are part of limited liability companies, which are typically family owned in the case of regional newspapers. Generally, there is greater diversity of ownership structures in Germany, the most famous examples being Der Spiegel, whose majority owner is a limited partnership of employees (Spiegel-Mitarbeiter KG), and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which is owned by a charitable foundation (the Fazit-Stiftung).

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