Axel Springer was founded in Hamburg in 1946 and editors spend the first year working above a warehouse for tea and spices, often without electricity and using borrowed typewriters. During the time they grew and became the leading publishing house which issued the most read newspapers: Bild, Die Welt, Hamburger Abendblatt Berliner Morgenpost, Grand Publish…
The significance of digitization was recognized in 2006 when their transformation had begun. However, digital transformation has been changing and accelerating since 2012.
For many years now, publishing houses have been battling the effects of digitalisation, often in vain. Advertising revenue was down and circulation figures were in free-fall. The web changed it all it offers talented bloggers, YouTubers and social media influencers a huge audience. A horror story for media professionals in other words: in the digital environment, the big money is made elsewhere with new and fast-growing web-based content portal.
Springer’s 53-year-old CEO, Mathias Döpfner had a radical plan to change the company: “Future growth lies in digitalisation and having a presence in other countries, especially the English-speaking market.”
He sent his 3 managers to the hornets nest, the place where most of their enemies were made, Silicon Valley. When three senior managers from Axel Springer, including Kai Diekmann, Bild’s Editor-in-Chief, were sent on a sabbatical in the summer of 2012 to spend a year in a shared house in Silicon Valley, many of the company’s competitors were bemused and rather dismissive. Their sole aim in the Valley was to understand the basic premise behind the digital game changers and to transfer as many of their experiences as possible to their own working environment.
Döpfner’s digitalisation strategy is based on the company’s four traditional core competencies: content, marketing, advertising and classified ads. By setting up and acquiring content portals, online marketers and classified websites, Döpfner is systematically transforming the former print-based publishing house and creating a digital company. At the same time, he is reaping the rewards of setting the process in motion earlier than his competitors.
The Axel Springer AG and the global growth investor General Atlantic LLC agree on a 30 percent share of General Atlantic in the newly formed company “Axel Springer Digital Classifieds GmbH” in which the online classified business of Axel Springer is now bundled. Axel Springer takes the leading French property portal SeLoger, the German real estate portal Immonet and the European job portal StepStone in the joint venture, which is rated at EUR 1.25 billion.
As early as July 2013, the media company reported that it intended to sell its TV listings magazines, women’s magazines and its regional daily newspapers. And they did, for 920 millions od dollars.
As soon as he came back from Silicon Valley, Kai Diekmann assumed responsibility for setting up Bild’s internet portal and creating shared editorial teams for online and print material
Bild has attracted over 400,000 subscribers via its paid content service. The Bild portal has also become a rich source of ideas, experimenting with Facebook instant articles, Periscope videos and complete news broadcasts for the social media community.
In 2015, Axel Springer also took over Business Insider from its founder.
In 2014, over 50% of turnover and more than 70% of profits came from digital business – none of its rivals can demonstrate such impressive results in the change process. This success is reflected in the company’s balance sheets. The profitable classifieds business recorded the group’s highest growth over the course of last year – thanks to returns of up to 40%.
In the case of the largest European digital publisher, who in due time understood the importance of digital transformation, information technology and trends, we demonstrate how it can be made even more successful, better, bigger. It is important if you do not be the first, as Axel sprinkler, then at least be the second and go through digitization, because only we can survive, meet the needs of our users and realize every day vision and mission.