Astrodienst Zürich is the largest astrological Internet service worldwide. How did this wide range of services come about? What was the motivation behind it?
The Astrodienst website (www.astro.com) was first launched in August 1996, we published our extensive Astrodienst catalogue online. In September, we added the first interactive service: the birth place and time zone atlas with more than 250'000 cities and all time zones and daylight saving times of the world. This atlas also offered the possibility to calculate simple charts with the data entered. The website was available in two languages right from the start: German and English. This was in tune with the Astrodienst's international orientation. Within a short time we managed to reach a wide public, mainly in astrological circles.
In the following years, we extended the selection of free online charts and calculations considerably. Astrodienst, having offered astrological computer services since 1980, possesses a treasure chest of astrological software with many specialised calculations and charts for most areas, schools and methods of astrology. In the years 1980 to 1987, astrological charts and calculations were the company's only field of activity. Our customers were professional and amateur astrologers, as well as astrology schools.
Only in 1987 we started offering astrological interpretations, which were developed under the trademark of Astro*Intelligence, together with Liz Greene and Robert Hand. The mere calculation service has since then experienced a relative decline due to the wide distribution of personal computers and astro software on many astrologers' desks - even so, we sell more chart drawings today (!) than in 1983, for example.
"It made me happy to able to do something for so many people. Until today, this has been the main driving force behind our commitment to the website. This is true for Astrodienst as a company as well as for myself as webmaster and main software developer."
The Internet offered us a wonderful opportunity to share this wealth of astrological software and high quality expertise with a wider public. During this phase, it was the pure pleasure of playing with these new possibilities and the enthusiasm we encountered from our web users that motivated us to take up all this work. It made me happy to able to do something for so many people. Until today, this has been the main driving force behind our commitment to the website. This is true for Astrodienst as a company as well as for myself as webmaster and main software developer.
In 1999, we added the first free interpretation, the personal Daily Horoscope, which soon became very popular, and which has remained the favourite feature of most users until today. More free short reports followed in 2000, and in the same year, we developed the interactive AstroClick horoscopes, which allow you to click on any feature of the chart to get its interpretation. By the way, AstroClick has become much less popular than we (as astrologers) had expected. I think that many visitors are quite overwhelmed by the sight of such a "complex" chart drawing, and instead of clicking on the chart, they react as if they saw a complex mathematical formula: they rush off, thinking 'this is not for me'.
Our second programmer and I have spent most of our working hours since 1996 on the development of the website and on becoming more familiar with the Internet and the possibilities it offers. Since 2000, there are four members in the webteam who are solely in charge of the website. In addition to our permanent staff, we cooperate with external translators, as our website is now available in seven languages.
In December 1997, we had 2500 visitors per day. In December 2000, there were 25'000 daily, and today we count between 80 and 85'000 on weekdays, and about 55'000 at the weekend or on bank holidays. Of these, about 25% use the website in German, 63% in English, and the other 12% are spread equally between Italian, French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese. These languages have only been online for a relatively short time.
This growth mainly results from word-of-mouth recommendation.
If a visitor likes what she sees, she tells her friends about
it. We have the advantage that astro.com is easy to remember
- in every language.
The most popular service by far is the Personal Daily Horoscope which makes up almost half of our page views. The other free horoscopes make about 45% of the page views. And the rest goes to our extensive section "Understanding Astrology" with introductions, specialised articles, etc.
"It is a fact that from a thousand visitors about 998 exclusively
use our free services. Only comparatively few order a product or a subscription."
Except for our shop, where we sell our sophisticated Astro*Intelligence interpretations, most of our services on the website are free of charge. Only the Personal Daily Horoscope has an 'extended mode' which is only accessible for subscribers. We introduced the Extended Daily Horoscope in June 2002. It gives access to personal transit interpretations for a any day within a four-year time span, not only for yesterday, today and tomorrow. The main content of the Daily Horoscope is still free, that is the computer-selected transit for today, yesterday, and tomorrow. However, we have recently moved the additional transit interpretations from the free section to the subscriber area.
The reason is simple: The current economic recession which concerns most parts of the world has not gone unnoticed by Astrodienst. In order to keep the services going - for which we work with great enthusiasm, we need more income. We have actually achieved quite good results with this move: the additional income from the Extended Daily Horoscope subscriptions has nearly compensated for the deficit in our cost of operation, and we can now take a calmer look at our annual balance sheet than in 2001 and 2002.
Some of the reactions were quite harsh and controversial. Did this surprise you? Which of the arguments can you accept, which ones do you reject? Which reactions did you consider wrong and exaggerated?
It is probably best to look at the feedback archive of May and the beginning of June 2003 on www.astro.com to get an impression of the kind of feedback we received. This is a live documentation of the reactions and our replies.
The harshness of the reactions did indeed take us by surprise. But then we understood what was going on. Have you ever taken away a single one of a child's ten or more toys in the playground? Try this with a few thousand children. This does not mean that the majority of our users react like toddlers whose comforter is taken away, but there are still quite a few of those. And if they appear in large numbers, their outcry overrules the rest of the voices fairly quickly.
We communicated quite clearly why we had to take that step (see above). But not everybody reacts in a rational way - and they don't have to. It is impossible to stay popular with everyone when important steps for the survival of a company have to be taken. It is a fact that from a thousand visitors about 998 exclusively use our free services. Only comparatively few order a product or a subscription. It is in the nature of the Internet to allow such a generous service, and it provides indeed a lot of pleasure to be able to offer it. But if there is only a minor change in the free services, it concerns many visitors, and some of them react irrationally. But these are, strictly speaking, not our customers, they are users of the free services. It would not be in their interest if the whole company had to close down due to a lack of income. But the individual users do not look at it from this perspective, and they are probably not interested in it either. Saturn is very strong in my birth chart, and I can stand by unpopular measures if they are necessary.
"There will be a great selection of free services in the future, we are not planning to restrict any of the services we offer today."
What a question! There will be a great selection of free services in the future, we are not planning to restrict any of the services we offer today. We really enjoy being able to offer them, and we get a lot of energy back from our enthusiastic visitors. I could not imagine to live without this wonderful forum for worldwide free astrological services.
We have many good ideas about how to stimulate the sales of our paid horoscopes in the near future. The recent recession has inspired our creativity and soon people will be able to see the results on www.astro.com. A crisis often brings out new ideas and injects new energy. We are very positive about the future.
Many visitors of www.astro.com are under the impression that there is a huge company behind the website, with its professional appearance, all the languages and services. But in reality, we are a small firm, a small creative enterprise with a large impact worldwide. By the way, we do have a great team of motivated staff who do a very good job with great enthusiasm.
Markus Jehle is a psychologist, astrologer and publisher of the German astrology magazine "Meridian". This interview was published in the September / October 2003 edition of Meridian.
Translated by Karin Hoffmann