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August 5, 2015

Axel Springer seeks digital life outside Europe after failed FT bid

Germany media firm are ‘no trophy hunters’, at least not for £844m.

By Jimmy Nicholls

Axel Springer will refocus its efforts on growing business in digital markets and expansion outside its home in Germany, following a failed bid for the Financial Times.

The media group, which generates half its revenues in its homeland, lost out to the Japanese media group Nikkei at the eleventh hour after weeks of pursuing the British business newspaper, which eventually sold for £844m.

Speaking to CBR, Edda Fels, SVP of corporate communications at Axel Springer, said: "We wanted the Financial Times and worked hard to make it happen.

"It would have been a perfect fit, especially because its digitisation is very advanced. But in the end the price was too high. We are disciplined buyers and we are definitely no trophy hunters."

Over the last decade Axel Springer has pivoted away from its traditional strength in European print newspapers, most recently shedding its regional papers in a £640m sale in 2013.

A purchase of the Financial Times would have seen it enter the competitive and increasingly global market for English-language news, as well as buying into a paper that already has half a million subscribers online.

Despite the last-minute disappointment, Fels said that Axel Springer’s digital-only strategy was "getting even firmer" after the Financial Times bid, adding that the company had enjoyed some success with smaller and medium acquisitions.

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"They have really started to taking digital by the throat and in the last few years have transformed their balance sheet to the point where they’re making more money from digital than traditional media," said Tom Felle, acting director of interactive and newspaper journalism at City University London.

He added that the much of this money was coming from non-news assets such as online classifieds for car sales or real estate, with digital revenues at Axel Springer now amounting to £690m for the first half of this year.

The company confirmed to CBR that the English-language market would continue to "remain a focus", and that the company would bolster investment in its international assets such as Bonial, a marketing service.

Axel Springer also did not rule out a bigger acquisition in the future, which may include another bid at a Fleet Street title in London, the firm having looked into buying The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Express a decade ago.

Commenting on rumours the company could be investigating a purchase of The Huffington Post, which is owned by AOL, Felle said such an acquisition could give them a good toehold in the US.

Yet he added that he saw more potential in emerging markets for the firm, particularly in Eastern Europe.

"Germany is to the East what the UK is to the West," he said. "I expect that’s where the growth is going to be for them."

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