Axel Springer looks to online payments

10 December 2009

BERLIN: Axel Springer, the German media giant, is to start charging consumers to access some of its newspaper content via the web, as part of a broader movement towards this approach in the country.

According to Magna, newspaper adspend stood at €6.7 billion ($9.9bn; £6.1bn) in Germany in 2008, and will decline by 13.6% in 2009, with further annual drops in the low single digits likely to 2015.

The Interpublic Group agency estimates that the medium's market share will tumble from 39% to 30% during this period, while online's proportion of spending will grow from 15% to 24%.

BDZV, the newspaper publishers' industry body, has further reported that total daily sales contracted by 2.5%, to 25.3 million, in the second quarter of this year.

Within this, only Bild, the mass-market title owned by Axel Springer, boasted a total of over 3 million issues sold per day.

In response to these trends, Axel Springer has launched paid-for variants of both Bild and Welt, a more upmarket offering, which will be made available to owners of Apple's iPhone.

Over the next few months, it will also construct paywalls restricting internet access to some of its material, although most articles will still be available for free, in the short-term at least.

Christoph Keese, its head of public affairs, said "the meta-philosophy of free – we should get rid of this philosophy."

"A highly industrialized world cannot survive on rumours. It needs quality journalism, and that costs money," he added.

The user base of Bild's online portal has quadrupled in size, to over 3 million people, in the last 12 months, according to Acta, helped in part by its frequent use of promotions for goods like laptops.

In seeking to further enhance its position on the web, Axel Springer would be willing to partner with companies like Google to develop a "one-click marketplace solution," Keese continued.

As part of this process, aggregation services like Google News could continue to display snippets from newspaper articles as at present, but add details showing how much netizens would be charged to view the full version of a given story.

Micropayments, or subscriptions to single or multiple titles, are all viable options, Keese argued, adding "we support a one-click model, but we don't want to build one platform with other publishers."

By contrast, some of Axel Springer's competitors, such as M DuMont Schauberg, Verlagsgruppe Georg Von Holtzbrinck and WAZ Mediengruppe, are said to be in negotiations about how best to jointly monetise their digital activities.

Konstantin Neven DuMont, a board member of DuMont Schauberg, said these talks were taking the form of "deliberations about founding a distribution platform for paid content from German language publishers and authors."

The main aims of this initiative include stopping "high-quality content being given away on the internet," he suggested.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal, Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff