Media giant sells empire to focus efforts online

The publisher of Europe's top-selling newspaper Bild, Germany's Axel Springer, said Thursday it would sell off regional dailies and magazines for €920 million

Media giant sells empire to focus efforts online
Photo: DPA

as it pursues an aggressive digital media strategy.

The sale to publisher Funke Mediengruppe, formerly the WAZ group, would take effect in early 2014 and include major Berlin and Hamburg dailies as well as a stable of weekly women’s magazines and TV guides, some of them decades old.

“The decision to divest some of our brands with the longest tradition in our company was not easy,” said Mathias Doepfner, chief executive of Axel Springer, in a statement.

But he said the company would pursue a stringent digitisation strategy. This would be based on its two national dailies and “follow the strategic direction to become the leading digital media group with a clear focus on the Bild and Welt groups” and related sport, auto and computer magazines.

The sale, which includes the Berliner Morgenpost and Hamburger Abendblatt dailies, is subject to approval under German merger and antitrust law and set to take effect on January 1, 2014, both companies said in a statement.

Print media has globally struggled with falling circulation and advertising revenue and the problem of making profits online, where readers can access daily news for free.

Axel Springer last month launched a new “freemium model” for its flagship Bild, a tabloid-style newspaper in broadsheet format – offering both free on-line articles and a variety of new premium online packages, with extra stories, pictures and videos, for subscription fees.

Readers who buy the print edition can access the day’s extra BildPlus online content using a “Day Pass”, an individual access code that required a new newspaper printing process.

The two publishing companies said Thursday they had “agreed to establish joint ventures for the marketing and distribution of print and digital media and so to merge their activities, their resources and their know-how.”

“In both joint venture companies, Axel Springer will have the entrepreneurial leadership and a majority interest,” said the joint statement. Funke, which publishes regional newspapers, advertising papers and magazines, will take over the magazines Hoerzu, TV Digital, Funk Uhr, Bildwoche, TV Neu, Bild der Frau and Frau von Heute.

The Essen-based publisher said that, by taking over the titles, it “accelerates its process of becoming a leading national media group”.

“New opportunities are emerging for our business: This applies to the print as well as to the online segment,” the company said. “Hereby, we gain an enormous potential for new developments, for example for the intelligent connection of both fields.”

Döpfner said that for the titles it is selling, Funke “provides the best long-term perspective for the brands and for the staff”.

But the German Journalists’ Association said it strictly opposed the sale, fearing cost cutting in the affected publications.

“I am deeply concerned about jobs in the affected newspapers and magazines,” said association chairman Michael Konken, who added that Axel Springer was turning from a publisher into a mixed conglomerate with a digital focus.

Axel Springer said that in fiscal 2012, the regional newspapers and magazines it is selling off had contributed €94.8 million to the group’s earnings before interest and taxes and €512.4 million to its revenues.

On the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, Axel Springer shares jumped more than six percent in the morning to €36.74.


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