Axel Springer says Bild online visits stable after paywall

September 11, 2013

By Harro Ten Wolde

HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) - German publisher Axel Springer said readers of the online edition of its mass circulation tabloid Bild had not been deterred by recently introduced fees for some content,

The website of Germany's top-selling daily was changed in mid-June to a so-called "freemium model", with some content remaining free while items such as exclusive interviews, stories and photos are subject to a charge.

Chief Executive Mathias Doepfner told reporters late on Tuesday that early signs pointed to a good start with no drop in visits.

"It is very positive. Developments are in line with our expectations. But more importantly, the amount of website visits didn't drop, which was feared, but that is not the case. Still we don't know how sustainable this is."

The Berlin-based publisher introduced a paywall for some online content of its flagship national daily Die Welt late last year, following in the footsteps of several papers abroad like the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and Britain's Times.

So far it has registered more than 47,000 subscribers for the Die Welt website.

The print edition had an average daily circulation of 2.66 million copies last year, Springer's annual report shows.

Axel Springer has been speeding up digital initiatives, while scaling back traditional operations, which are under pressure.

Ad revenue in German newspapers was down 11.4 percent at 1.1 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in the second quarter, while spending on magazine ads eased 1 percent to 995 million, data from Nielsen Media Research showed.

At the same time, revenues in online advertising rose 3.3 percent to 734 million euros, taking an 11-percent share of all advertising spending.

In July, Axel Springer struck a 920 million euro deal to sell its regional newspapers Berliner Morgenpost and Hamburger Abendblatt as well as five TV programme guides and two women's magazines to free up cash for acquisitions in the digital area.

Axel Springer was in the race to spend the proceeds on Deutsche Telekom's classified advertising business, but it said last week it had dropped out.

Doepfner said on Tuesday the business, a bundle of Internet portals including European car trading site AutoScout24 and real estate classifieds site ImmobilienScout24, was getting too expensive.

"In recent years we have shown that despite positive strategic dynamics we are not willing to pay insane prices," Doepfner said.

He added that Axel Springer was not in a hurry to make acquisitions and that it would wait for small to medium-sized opportunities as well as for some bigger acquisitions.

(Editing by Mark Potter)