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BUDAPEST-Germany's Springer Verlag landed privatization a coup in 1990 by buying seven Hungarian dailies in Hungary's media no man's land.

Now Hungary's largest nationwide newspaper is staging an insurrection. A former Socialist Party mouthpiece now 55%-owned by the Swiss Bertelsmann Group, daily Nepszabadsag, with 310,000 circulation, started three regional dailies to compete with Springer in eastern Hungary.

To boost circulation of the local dailies, Nepszabadsag brought Postabank, one of Hungary's largest banks, and publishing house Lang Kiado into the deal in April. The move gives the regionals $825,000 worth of firepower through a capital increase that leaves Nepszabadsag with a 24% stake in them.

"The initiatives taken caused a revival" of marketing between the domestic market leader and the international media powerhouse, said Judit Skriba, Nepszabadsag marketing director.

Nepszabadsag's Heves Megyei Nap, Bekes Megyei Nap and Jasz-Nagykun-Szolnak Kronika just celebrated their first birthday and seem to be gaining on their Springer rivals.

In the Jasz-Nagykun-Szolnak region, Nepszabadsag claims to have surpassed Springer's circulation with 18,000 subscribers, a 50% increase in one year. The trio's combined circulation is 52,000.

While Springer held a regional monopoly, it had no marketing budget. The vacuum allowed Nepszabadsag to get by on $40,000 to attract new readers per newspaper last quarter, including bus-stop posters touting a low price and a four-color TV listing.

McCann-Erickson here developed the campaign's theme, "The day and everything's bright," playing on the Hungarian word for sun or day and the word for bright or clear to imply that the papers present news more clearly.

Nepszabadsag's campaign drew a quick response from Springer, which introduced TV listings using the same format. But Andreas Gunther, publishing manager of Axel Springer Hungary, said, "Competition is good for the readers and the publishing houses."

Nepszabadsag called the regional competition a score for freedom of the press in Hungary, where many papers are still polarized along party lines.

But Springer, Hungary's largest publisher, is preparing for a fight by centralizing national and international news reporting, production and ad sales here.

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