German publisher Axel Springer has reinvented itself as a digital business over the past decade, moving from a point where just 1% of profits came from digital products to the current position where they generate around 80%.

“Digital can be more profitable than print ever was,” CEO Mathias Döpfner told the Colombia Journalism Review. “And we’re further along than any traditional media company.”

That’s in part due to the “Axel Springer Silicon Valley project” he initiated in 2012, which brought an understanding of digital disruption into the company, and the sell of off regional print titles with much of the money being reinvested in different news options, including cable TV and start-up platforms such as and Business Insider.

It has also stopped investing in the print versions of its two legacy flagship titles, Bild and Die Welt , both of which are major players in Germany’s online news market, Bild with 400,000 subscribers, Die Welt with 100,000.

Ulf Poschardt, editor of the latter, explained how it is now simply a newsbrand focused on “stories issues, attitudes and scoops” that happens to own a newspaper.

Of the “digital first” mantra, he added, “It’s even firster. More first. What’s even more first than first? Super-first, hyper-first … it’s über-first now.”

The point was underlined when Axel Springer’s annual results were announced in March. “We used to look at Bild’s print ads to see how the company was doing,” said Döpfner at the time.

“Now print ads represent less than 10% of our revenue. That’s a good illustration of the way the company is moving towards a purely digital structure.”

That has inevitably brought it into conflict with the US tech giants he sought inspiration from in the first place, as both its news and classifieds businesses depend to a large extent on traffic from Google.

And while Axel Springer has successfully developed its data collection practices over the past two years to create more than 400 audience segments it can sell to advertisers, it hasn’t resolved the issue of how it creates an audience data product with distinct advantages over the big digital platforms.

“What can I tell my advertiser that he doesn’t already know about his target group from the data that I really own as a publisher, that I know, because I see those users all the time? This is something we are digging into right now,” Carolin Bink, Axel Springer’s head of data product, told a recent London event. (For more, read WARC’s article: How Axel Springer is using its data to offer brands new insights into audiences.)

Sourced from Colombia Journalism Review; additional content by WARC staff