Axel Springer SE is a German digital publishing house which is the largest in Europe, with numerous multimedia news brands, such as Bild, Die Welt, and Fakt and more than 15,000 employees. It generated total revenues of about €3.3 billion and an EBITDA of €559 million in the financial year 2015. The digital media activities contribute more than 60% to its revenues and nearly 70% to its EBITDA. Axel Springer’s business is divided into three segments: paid models, marketing models, and classified ad models. Since 2020, it is majority-owned by the US private equity firm KKR.
Headquartered in Berlin, Germany, the company is active in more than 40 countries with subsidiaries, joint ventures, and licensing.
It was started in 1946/1947 by journalist Axel Springer. Its current CEO is Mathias Döpfner. The Axel Springer company is the largest publishing house in Europe and controls the largest share of the German market for daily newspapers; 23.6%, largely because its flagship tabloid Bild is the highest-circulation newspaper in Europe with a daily readership exceeding 12 million.
Newspapers, magazines, online offerings
The media offerings of Axel Springer SE are clustered in: current news, autos, sports, computers and consumer electronics, as well as lifestyle.
Side view of the Axel Springer corporate headquarters in Berlin
Selection of publications
- Die Welt, the intellectual flagship of the company
- Bild, tabloid with the largest circulation in Europe
- Auto Bild, automobile magazine with the largest circulation in Europe
- Audio Video Foto Bild, magazine for consumer electronics
- Computer Bild, published in nine countries, is Europe's best-selling computer magazine
- Sport Bild, published in many countries, is Europe's largest sport magazine
- Auto.cz, the largest Czech internet car portal including RoadLook.tv, starting in Slovakia and Poland as well
- Fakt, the largest daily tabloid in Poland
- B.Z., local newspaper
- Watchmi, a personalized TV content discovery system
- Musikexpress, a monthly music magazine
- the German edition of the magazine Rolling Stone
- Transfermarkt, a football statistics website
- Business Insider, a business, celebrity and technology news website
- Insider, a social media-based lifestyle publication
- upday, a news aggregator app
- Politico Europe, European political newspaper, joint venture with Politico
In addition, the company is active in the online editorial and marketing business with its shares in aufeminin.com, Awin, and buy.at, and owns several online classified advertising platforms such as the career site StepStone, the real estate marketing portal immonet, various coupon portals, including Sparheld.de Germany and Reduc.fr in France and price comparison platform idealo. It is also a significant investor in the American digital media company Group Nine Media.
In 1946, publisher Hinrich Springer (66) and his son Axel Springer (34) established the limited company Axel Springer Verlag GmbH. That year saw the launch of the Nordwestdeutsche Hefte and the radio and TV magazine Hörzu.
In 1948, the evening newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt was launched, the first daily created by Axel Springer.
The year 1952 saw the launch of the popular daily Bild. The paper was based on the British tabloid Daily Mirror, and peaked at circulation of 5 million in the 1980s.
In 1953, Axel Springer Verlag bought the publishing house Die Welt, including the daily paper Die Welt and the Sunday paper Welt am Sonntag.
In 1956, the company headquarters in Hamburg was built.
Then in 1959, the company acquired the majority holding in Ullstein AG, including the Berlin newspapers Berliner Morgenpost and B.Z. and the Ullstein book-publishing business.
The official opening of the Berlin headquarters took place in 1966. Hamburg remained an important site.
After the attack on the students' leader Rudi Dutschke on 11 April 1968 the APO (Extra-Parliamentary Opposition) starts acts of violence against the company. The APO had a history of animosity with the Springer Group's allegedly biased coverage of the student movement. For instance, in the wake of the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg by the police at a student demonstration against the Shah, one Springer paper reported that "what happened yesterday in Berlin had nothing to do with politics… It was criminal in the most sickening way". In fact, Ohnesorg, who had never attended a demonstration before, had been shot in the back while trying to leave the demonstration.
The years 1972–73 saw the building of the offset-printing plant in Essen-Kettwig.
1984 witnessed the official opening of the offset printing facility in Ahrensburg near Hamburg.
In 1985, 49% of the company was offered for public subscription. Later that year Axel Springer dies. Control was passed to his widow Friede Springer.
In 1986 the first licensed edition of Auto Bild came out in Italy. Other licensed editions and joint venture publications later appeared in twenty European countries, Indonesia and Thailand.
In 1993 there was the official opening of the offset printing works in Berlin-Spandau.
In 2001, Axel Springer and T-Online established a joint subsidiary Bild.de/T-Online AG. A year later in 2002, the launch of immonet.de took place and Mathias Doepfner, former editor-in-chief of Die Welt, became CEO of Axel Springer AG. Then in 2003, the name was changed to Axel Springer AG.
In 2009, Axel Springer AG acquired affiliate marketers Zanox and Digital Window as well as StepStone ASA. While in 2010 a $635.7 million offer by Axel for leading French real estate website operator seloger.com caused seloger shares to rise as much as 32% the most since it went public. Within 3 days Axel increased its offer 15.6% to $735 million after shareholders rejected the deal.
In 2012, Axel Springer formed a joint venture (Axel Springer Digital Classified) with global growth equity firm General Atlantic. The company buys TotalJobs in the UK from Reed Elsevier.
And in 2013, Springer sold its regional newspapers, woman's magazines, and television magazines to Funke Mediengruppe for €920 million That same year, Publications Grand Public, a French magazine publisher owned by Springer, was sold to Reworld Media.
In 2015, Axel Springer AG purchased Business Insider, a business, celebrity and technology news website, in a deal that valued Business Insider at $442 million. On 8 December of the same year, Axel Springer increased their share in Axel Springer Digital Classifieds GmbH from 70 per cent to 85 per cent, and was granted a purchase option to acquire the remaining 15 per cent from General Atlantic. On 9 December, Axel Springer exercised the option, acquiring the additional 15% from General Atlantic in exchange for shares of Axel Springer, leaving the growth equity firm with 8.3% holding in the company.
In 2020, Friede Springer transferred $1.5 billion of Axel Springer shares to CEO Mathias Doepfner, effectively making him heir of the media group. Doepfner now has control of 44% of the voting rights.
Editorial bias and alleged ties to US intelligence agencies
According to German scholar Gudrun Kruip of the Stiftung Bundespräsident-Theodor-Heuss-Haus, Axel Springer SE and its subsidiaries spread a strongly pro-American view in which criticism of US foreign policy is largely absent. In an interview with The Nation, two former CIA officers testified that Axel Springer received 7 million USD from the CIA to support American geopolitical interests with his publishing house. Springer reportedly agreed and began guiding the editorial bias towards supporting US foreign policy. Although no conclusive evidence has come to light, Kruip considers the CIA officers' testimony credible since Springer, according to his own autobiography, had no money to actually fund the publishing house when it was founded, and it was thus unlikely that he could finance its rapid ascent without "money from the outside". As of 2021, the Axel Springer SE names "solidarity with the libertarian values of the United States of America" as one of its core principles on its own website. Many scholars and independent observers allege a "subservience to American geopolitical interests" of the publishing house and its subsidiaries to this day.
Accusations of editorial interference in Poland
In 2017, Ringer Axel Springer Polska was accused of editorial interference, when the head of the joint venture Mark Dekan wrote a letter to the company's Polish employees in which he disparaged the head of the conservative Law and Justice political party, calling the Polish politician Jaroslaw Kaczynski a "loser" for opposing the candidacy of Donald Tusk as President of the European Union, stating that "...we should never forget about the basic values that we represent... Here is the moment where free media, such as ours must be active. We speak for the ideas of... a United Europe." In the letter, Dekan also raised his concerns that European integration was least supported by the youngest generation of Poles and vowed to take appropriate action, suggesting "Let's tell them what to do to stay in the fast lane and not end in the parking lot."
Major competitors in the German publishing market include Bauer Media Group, Bertelsmann, Hubert Burda Media, and Holtzbrinck.
In the 1960s and 1970s the company was targeted by a number of left-wing groups. It was denounced by German-American writer Reinhard Lettau in an incendiary speech at the Freie Universität Berlin; in 1968 their Berlin headquarters was blockaded by students; in 1972 the Red Army Faction claimed responsibility for six bombs placed in the Hamburg building (only three exploded and 17 people were injured) and in 1975 a bomb exploded in their Paris office, the "6th of March Group" (connected to the Red Army Faction) claimed responsibility.
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