41. Axel Springer AG
Revenues 2012: € 3.310 billion
As the biggest newspaper publisher and at the same time one of the largest media companies in the country, the Axel Springer AG is a fixture in the German media landscape - an institution that is as traditional as it is powerful. Occasional setbacks did not deter Springer-CEO Mathias Döpfner from his strategies of choice and the outspoken goal to become “the best integrated multimedia company in Europe”. Thanks to countless sales and acquisitions first and foremost in the online segment, Springer can be considered the most dynamic German media company.
Axel Springer Haus Berlin
Telephone: 0049 30-25-91-0
Axel Springer Haus Hamburg
Axel Springer Platz 1
Phone: 0049 40-347-244-99
Branches: Newspapers, Magazines, Printing Houses, Press Distribution, TV Stations, Radio, Online Services, TV Production
Legal Form: Public Company; since December 2010 listed on MDax
Financial Year: 01/01 - 12/31
Founding Year: 1946
Share Price (in €, end of the year)
Dividend (per share in €)
- Dr. Mathias Döpfner, Jg. 1963, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
- Jan Bayer, Jg. 1970, President, WELT Group and Printing
- Ralph Büchi, Jg. 1958, President, International Division
- Lothar Lanz, Jg. 1947, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer
- Dr. Andreas Wiele, Jg. 1962, President, BILD Group and Magazines
- Dr. Giuseppe Vita
- Dr. h.c. Friede Springer
- Dr. Gerhard Cromme, ThyssenKrupp AG und Siemens AG
- Oliver Heine
- Klaus Krone
- Dr. Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller, Trumpf GmbH + Co. KG
- Prof. Wolf Lepenies
- Rudolf Knepper
- Dr. Michael Otto. Otto GmbH & Co.
The Axel Springer Verlag emerged from the Hammerich & Lesser printing publisher that was founded in Altona at Hamburg in 1789. In 1909, the business man Hinrich Springer acquired the morose company, which would commence publishing the daily newspaper 'Altonear Nachrichten' in 1924. In 1941, the paper fell into the hands of the NS press empire. The publisher's son Axel Cäsar Springer is awarded a license to publish 'Hör zu' after the war, which he turns into the most-read program magazine in the Federal Republic of Germany. Other objects were to follow: In 1948, Springer and his 'Hamburger Abendblatt' make a splash on the newspaper market. In 1952, he founds the 'Bild' newspaper, followed by the acquisition of 'Die Welt' from British occupation officers in 1953. The restless publisher buys into the Ullstein AG (Berliner Morgenpost, BZ etc.) in Berlin by the end of the 1950s. The magazine publisher Kindler & Schiermeyer (Eltern, Jasmin) are sold again by Springer after a short stint of a mere three years – accompanied by a public debate regarding Springer's immense power of opinion-making and a concentration regulation for the German press sector. During the 1970s, the press entrepreneur gets involved in regional papers and special interest magazines too. The publisher Springer even sets his sights on the television market very early on and attempts to buy the ZDF TV channel but his dreams of a publisher-TV conglomerate remain unfulfilled. For years, Axel Springer has been cultivating a very distinct image surrounding his company with his patriarchal style of leadership. The publishing house felt like one big family – a family that had to withstand severe attacks one more than one occasion, such as those by the APO in the 1960s. Back in the day, the Springer Verlag was fighting for a reunion of West and East Germany and was considered a symbol for the repressive state itself.
When Axel Springer died in 1985, the top floors of the company turned into a battlefield of prospective management and it took the company a long time to recuperate from the repercussions. The publishing family of Senator Franz Burda from Baden did not turn out to be the strong support it had been expected to be. Burda sold his Springer shares of 25%, which he bought in 1983, as early as 1988 and back to the Springer family, although it initially looked like they might even fall into the hands of the Munich film trader Leo Kirch. He acquired shares of 10% when Springer broke onto the stock market in 1985, which he extended in subsequent years. His clinch with Springer would be the pivotal factor within the company for years. Whenever the Springer top managers would not wage war amongst themselves, they would fight with the large-scale investor Kirch who kept his eyes firmly fixed on any sort of potential extension. When Peter Tamm was the chairman of the board, the conflict escalated and even resulted in several court trials. After a grace period under Tamm's succesors Günter Wille and Günter Prinz, due to a 'peace treaty' between the Springer family and Kirch from 1990, Jürgen Richter – the chairman of the board from 1994 to 1997, decided to the set the sights on Leo Kirch once again. He took over the majority share-hold of Sat.1 investor 'Aktuell Prese Fernsehen' (APF) and thereby substantiated the standing of the newspaper company within the Kirch-controlled station: Finally, Springer disposed of 40% of the Sat.1 capital and four out of eight votes in the board of directors. Yet, as a result of clever counter-attacks by Kirch, Richter was forced to vacate this position.
Ever since the mid-80s, the publisher's management released an ongoing stream of 'Bild' spin-offs, such as the 'Bild der Frau' or 'Sport-Bild' and extends its investment endeavours abroad. As far as the television sector goes, the publisher initially got involved in Sat.1, sneaking up on Kirch, as well as the Deutsches Sport-Fernsehen (DSF, today: "Sport 1"), plus the sport licensing rights agency ISPR. In late 1996, Springer consolidated his television business: The unprofitable DSF-involvement is sold, the Sat.1 involvement extended. In 1998, several involvements in production companies were added to the portfolio: Hence, the publisher's plans to provide Sat.1 with content, for which Springer is responsible of the journalistic segments, although the operative leadership was given to Kirch. Finally, the odd couple agreed in 2002 that Springer would give up his position at Sat.1 and in return revive 11,5 percent of the new station family ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG – together with the right to sell its package of shares to Kirch no later than February 2002 for 767 million €.
And that circumstance is exactly what Mathias Döpfner, Springer chairman of the board since 2002, put to good use, which let to the insolvency of the Kirch-group, among other things. Under the leadership of Mathias Döpfner, the publisher not only did away with the burden of Leo Kirch, but also the books – which had been screaming in pain due to severe losses in 2001 – are starting to churn out more favourable numbers. Mathias Döpfner invested in foreign productions, primarily in Eastern Europe, where springer founded the tabloid newspaper 'Fakt' in Poland and a licensed issue of 'Forbes' in Russia. The attempted takeover of the London newsgroup behind the 'Daily Telegraph' failed in 2004 and further investments were made in the field of electronic media.
Mathias Döpfner had to endure a fierce defeat in early 2006, when the Federal Cartel Office refuses Springer to take over the majority of the Munich-based TV company ProSiebenSat1 from major shareholder Haim Saban for 2,45 €. This decision had been surrounded by a public debate over the Springer company’s power of opinion-making. In 2010, the Federal court of justice confirmed the verdict when it decline Springer's appeal.
Since early 2002, Mathias Döpfner has been sitting at the top of the board of directors. The graduated musicologist, born in 1963, became an editor at the 'Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung' in 1982. In 1992, he became assistant to the board of directors at Gruner+Jahr, before heading the editors' offices at the „Wochenpost" (founded in 1953 in the GDR, cancelled later), „Hamburger Morgenpost" and „Die Welt". In August, he succeeded August Fischer who failed to expand into foreign territory and invest in electronic media. Despite a handful of setbacks, Döpfner is a much more successful top manager than his previous engagements as editor-in-chief would allude to. Although a brief flirt with the mail business resulted in losses over 288,4 million € in 2007, the next year turned out to sport the highest annual net profit in the history of the company.
Döpfner is in the habit of enjoying and making frequent public appearances and never shies away from potential controversy. In order to deal with the Springer-publisher's heavily discussed past, he has been searching for dialogues with famous critics of the company ever since 2006, such as the author Günter Grass, who had been boycotting Springer publications for 30 years. Time and time again, Döpfner accepted the necessity of 'a self-evaluating revision' of the publisher itself, as long as the former opponents of the 'textual abberances during the 1960 movement' were willing to throw their hats into the discussion as well. However, this aggressive approach to consolidation is not always met with austerity on the sides of the approached – such happened with the failed 'Springer-Tribunal' in 2009: When it became known that the West-Berlin policeman, who shot the demonstrating student Benno Ohnesorg in 1967 had actually been an agent of the Stasi, Döpfner and "Welt"-editor-in-chief Thomas Schmid demanded apologies for 'disown Springer-demands' that were voiced in the 1960s (further reading: "Springer ist Unrecht widerfahren"/ Döpfner in a "FAS"-Interview; response by Hans Leyendeckers in the "SZ"). In July, the publisher announced to make up for the 'Springer-Tribunal', as demanded by the former opponents of the company in 1968, and stage it there and then instead. Then in August, the rejection followed on the foot. In the end, the efforts to revive the debate anew let to nothing else but approximately 5.900 available press resources from the 1960s, which are now available online too - medienarchiv68.de - courtesy of Springer.
In general, Döpfner tries to convey a liberal and open-minded image. On the one hand, the propagated Internet pluralism of opinion is constantly subject of scrutiny, on the other hand, the company and its leaders proved to be capable of learning after all. In the meantime, Diekmann himslef started blogging and cultivated the image of being a “multi-award winning champion in self-criticism and self-irony.”, as the 'Bild'-critical Bildblog had to concede.
A particular occasion that divided the masses had been Döpfner's plans in 2005/2006 to tackle an omni-media expansion onto the television sector. Critics feared an endangering of the multiplicity of opinion. Alluding to the attempted takeover (which was refused) of the ProSiebenSat1 Media AG through the foreign finance investors Permira and KKR, many voices expressed their desire for television stations to remain in German ownership. Ever since, the question of the opinion-making power of private media company has been influencing the Berlin publishing house's strategy in times of fast convergence and lead to an increase in international expansion.
Döpfner also likes to give statements regarding the increasingly immediate question of how and where press publishers might want to look for revenues in the digital era. Springer's attempts to create journalistic content that is subject to payment are keenly observed by the competition. One particular statement about the iPad he made on the American Televison (publishers should "sit down once a day and pray to thank" Apple founder Steve Jobs) gained lots of international attention. In an Interview with the Handelsblatt in November 2010 he further elaborated on this statement: “Well, the fact that there might have been a trace of irony hidden in that statement did not really land in Germany. However, I added something to the statement on the same show. After praying for Steve Jobs, we should start negotiating with him, because the prices and degree of end customer control are not acceptable. That was probably a bit unclear. It would have been nice if the critics could have spared a few more minutes and consider the sentences that followed the initial statement.”
In 2011, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, reported that Döpfner “earns a higher salary than the best-paid CEO of any DAX company”.
The Axel Springer publisher is the most important German newspaper house. Furthermore, its power is first and foremost rooted in the 'Bild' newspaper, which still sells more than three million copies on average per working day as of the third quarter 2010 ( IV/2010: 2.930.133 copies) and reflects trends and opinions of the masses in a tabloid paper fashion. There is next to no politician who could do without the 'Bild' when it comes to public relations work. This cashcow as well as the successful Sunday papers („Bild am Sonntag“, „Welt am Sonntag“), which had been without competition before the introduction of the „Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung“ in 2001, constitute Springer's special position within the German press market. Just like the rest of the market, Springer's revenues in the field of 'national newspaper' are also slightly but continuously decreasing. The formerly important business with regional and local newspapers is survived only by the “Hamburger Abendblatt" as far as key titles go.
The publisher is successively withdrawing from the generally recessive business with German magazines. The range includes the successful 'Computer Bild' and 'Auto-Bild' with countless international license issues, 'Sport-Bild', 'Bild der Frau' as well as special interest magazines ('Tennis magazine', 'Fliegenfischen') the subsidiary 'Jahr Top Special Verlag' and several music magazines.
3.) Online content
Once it had been successfully identified as growth market by the company top floor, the company vehemently increased the focus on digitalising journalistic content & services on the Internet and invested much of its takings from the print segment into this business field. In 2010, Internet content generated 24 % (2008: 14 percent) of revenues, a mark that is scheduled to hit 50 percent in the future. However, the fact that – at least according to the company spokesperson Christoph Keese – it is “not journalism where the money in the net lies buried but companies such as idealo.de or Zanox.” is rarely a matter of public discussion.
A particular field of interest in which Springer invests lots of time and effort are commercial applications (apps) for the iPhone and the new tablets iPad by Apple. Springer's "iKiosk" provides the "The Iconist" Magazin in Germany and English (exclusive for the iPad) as well as digital editions of 'Auto Bild','Computer Bild' and 'Sport Bild' – both as individual sale positions or through a subscription models.
As far as free Internet gateways are concerned, the 'Bild' newspaper's website is one of the largest in the country. Initially founded as a joint venture with T-Online, Springer took over the 37 percent that had formerly been held by the Deutsche Telekom on the 1st of January 2008 and became the sole shareholder. As of January 2009, 'bild.de' generates more than one billion page impressions per month, according to IVW.
Springer is directly involved in Radio Hamburg GmbH (25%), the Antenne Bayern Hörfunkanbieter GmbH (16%), the Radio/Tele FFH GmbH (10,3%), the Stuttgart Regional Hörfunk GmbH (10,3%) as well as Regiocast GmbH (7,5%). Hence, the company influences a plethora of radio programs, including the large nation-wide channels Radio Schleswig-Holstein, Radio Hamburg, Radio ffn in Niedersachsen, Radio FFH in Hessen, Antenne Bavaria, Antenne 1 and Radio NRW and many more
In 2009, The Axel Springer AG published more than 170 newspapers and magazines in 36 countries, in subsidiaries or licensed editions under outsourced distribution. Until 2011, the number of print titles even increased to more than 240 newspapers and magazines. A crucial factor is the 50-50-joint venture 'Ringier Axel Springer Media AG' which was agreed upon with the Swiss Ringier AG 2010 for Eastern Europe in 2010, which is based in Zurich, but the titles of which are consolidated by the Springer books. Therefore, the print international share of the Springer business jumped to 24,6 percent (business year of 2010). Its international online-range amounts to “more than 140” positions, according to Springer.
Western and Central Europe
The Springer publisher's activities in West and Central Europe are restricted to Switzerland and France. Since the Jean Frey AG was taken over in 2007, the company publishes two economy newspapers, five magazines and three more magazine („Beobachter“, „Bilanz“, „TV-Star“) as well as the „Handels-Zeitung".In 2007, the company acquired four more Swiss papers (such as Tele and TVVier) from Verlag Ringier. Springer combines its Swiss online activities such as 'Students.ch' and 'partyguide.ch' in the Amiado Group .
In France, the company merely publishes three magazines and only disposes of a minor relevance when compared to other publishers. In Spain, the activity includes 12 magazines (2010). In 2010/11, the acquisition of the French real-estate gateway seloger.com was taken over, despite severe resistance ("FTD")
In 2010, Springer and the Riniger AG merger their business activities in Poland, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Slovakia. In Hungary however, Springer considered itself to be the largest publisher with “more than 30 magazines and ten newspapers”. The company played a pivotal role (as least for some time) in Poland, where it publishes the most-read daily newspaper 'Fakt' (500.000 copies at one point), a daily sports newspaper as well as ten magazines (including a licensed edition of 'Newsweek')
In Romania, Springer remains involved in the Edipresse AS Romania Joint Venture with 40 percent.
Russia was also unaffected by the Eastern Europe – Joint Venture and here, Springer publishes several licensed editions including editions of 'Computer BILD', the People Magazine, OK! and „Forbes“.
In India on the other hand, Springer has been involved in the automotive gateway website carwale.com with 52,1 percent since 2010 as well as holding 19,1 percent of the shopping gateway bagittoday.com, both in cooperation with the native media company India Today Group, with which Springer already publishes the Indian version of 'Auto BILD' since 2008. A Chinese 'Auto BILD' will be published by the Titan Media Group from 2011 onwards.
Information of the Company:
- Handelsblatt: Stepstone - Axel Springer poliert seine Bilanz auf (09/04/09)
- FAZ: Mathias Döpfner - „Bild.mobile auf dem iPhone muss bezahlt werden“ (08/14/09)
- Der Spiegel: Springer will Geld für Onlinejournalismus (08/13/09)
- Manager Magazin: Umsatzrückgang - Werbeflaute trifft Springer (08/06/09)
- Der Spiegel: Springer lädt 68er zum Tribunal (07/02/09)
- Süddeutsche Zeitung: Im Zweifel Stasi (06/13/09)
- netzeitung.de: „Bild“ zieht nach Berlin (03/17/08)
- Süddeutsche Zeitung: Höhere Vorstandsgehälter – Schlechter Stil (03/12/08)
- FAZ: Mathias Döpfner - Der Verlierer (12/16/07)
the Open Society Foundations' Media Program,
Germany's Federal Agency for Civic Education,
the Rudolf Augstein Foundation,
the city of Cologne, Germany,
and the State of Thuringia, Department of Commerce.