Europe's biggest newspaper decides the iPhone browser isn't welcome

Logo Bild.deSo much for the coming mobile nirvana of free mobile content – at least for iPhone users in Germany. Today Europe’s biggest newspaper, BILD-Zeitung, intends to use, in effect, brute force to compel users buy its new iPhone app. The paper tabloid is going to block anyone using an iPhone browser from accessing its website.

Now, readers will not only have to pay for the dedicated BILD iPhone app, but they also need to pony-up recurring fees for new articles. The same is planned for Axel Springer’s quality paper Die Welt. Users of Nokia, Blackberry, HTC or other smartphone brands will not be blocked – but only for as long as it takes for Springer to develop an app for each device.

Guinea pig: BZ Berlin for iPhone

   Guinea pig: BZ Berlin for iPhone

Until now, was Germany’s second most visited news site with 5.6m unique users and 1.36bn page impressions per month. It’s catching up fast with the market leader Spiegel online which is only on 20,000 unique users away. But this growth could suffer a setback as the site’s holding company, Axel Springer AG, plans to implement this pay per use model.

Springer announced in August that in the long run every smartphone user will have to pay to access their content. The iPhone is the first device because its users are “especially ready to pay“, as CEO Mathias Döpfner puts it. The first guinea pig was the €0.79 iPhone app for Berlin’s biggest newspaper BZ that was released in October. Admittedly he has a point – iPhone users do pay for apps.

But blocking iPhone users, which in the US now make up 50 percent of smartphone web traffic and blow everyone else away with their data usage, is a dangerous move.

Döpfner himself says that today the iPhone makes up more than a half of Springer’s mobile users. As long as competitors give their news away for free and iPhone users can read the two newspapers on their laptops without a charge, his company can only lose, at least in theory.

Of course, the strategy may well back-fire, even when it could use more readers, unimpared by pay walls. BILD gets constantly censured by the German Press Council for sensational journalism and Springer’s prestigious title, Die Welt, has been losing money for most of its life since its foundation in 1946.

This bizarre strategy from Axel Springer is in marked contrast to other European newspapers, which are in the main a lot more generous to iPhone users.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper has a full iPhone browser version as well as a great generic mobile website. Even the prestigious Financial Times has a gratis iPhone app to access most of its content for free.

Incurable news junkies can get their fix from the €1.59 iPhone app World Newspapers which provides free access to 4,000 newspapers in almost 200 countries.

Seems like Axel Springer either didn’t get the memo – or it thinks its cunning plan will work.