Axel Springer in 2016: From Transformation to Acceleration?

By Robert A. Burgelman, Robert Siegel, Ryan Kissick
2016 | Case No. E610 | Length 28 pgs.

As of 2016, Mathias Döpfner, chief executive officer (CEO) of Axel Springer SE, had successfully transitioned the German publishing house through a major digital transformation in the world of journalism.  Given the massive disruption that had occurred over the previous two decades with how people consumed news, this was no small feat.  During this time, many newspapers, magazines, and journals failed to keep up with the rapidly changing industry.  Historically, print advertising constituted the majority of revenue for large publishers.  But the digital revolution in journalism meant that print advertising revenues dropped precipitously.  This downward trend in print advertising revenues happened around the globe, with traditional publishers cutting thousands of jobs.  Many publishers were forced to declare bankruptcy during this period.

In spite of these industry headwinds, Axel Springer was thriving.  Döpfner had transformed Axel Springer through a two-stage digital transformation strategy process.  Starting in 2006, Axel Springer first focused on organic growth and late-stage digital acquisitions, which infused digitization into Axel Springer’s corporate culture.  In 2013, the second stage centered around Döpfner’s mission to become “The Leading Digital Publisher”; Axel Springer would be defined not by its distribution channels, but by its (content) brands and services.  Having successfully transformed Axel Springer from a print-only company to a thriving print and digital media conglomerate, Döpfner wanted to accelerate Axel Springer’s growth even further.  He believed that Axel Springer was well positioned to succeed not only in their core German market, but also more broadly on the world stage.

Yet he knew this path to becoming a global media powerhouse would not be straightforward, especially given the rapid changes occurring within the media and publishing realm.  In a world in which people were consuming content from a variety of sources—traditional print media and digital news sources, such as social media, e-mail, news alerts, or mobile applications—Axel Springer would continuously need to assess how it provided content to consumers as well as who it considered competition.

Learning Objective

The “Axel Springer in 2016: From Transformation to Acceleration?” case highlights several learning objectives: 1) Developing an organization that embraces new technology, turning disruptive into sustaining technological change; 2) Understanding the market dynamics, including new competition, in the rapidly changing media and publishing industries; 3) Expanding into new geographical markets through organic growth and acquisition.
This material is available for download by current Stanford GSB students, faculty, and staff, as well as Stanford GSB alumni. For inquires, contact the Case Writing Office. Download