Buying another classified site, Axel Springer sees digital filling print gap

German news publisher Axel Springer says its acquisition foray in to web classified ad services is helping to make up for its declining print market.

On Tuesday, the group said its Axel Springer Digital Classifieds group is buying 80 percent of Belgian property listings site Immoweb from its founding Rousseaux family and Produpress for €127.5 million ($164 million) – the latest in a spree nearing €1 billion this year.

In a nine-month trading update on Wednesday, the group says 2012 gains from digital media “will more than compensate for slightly lower revenues in the national print business and lower revenues in the international print business”.

The outfit publishes the Bild and Die Welt newspapers but has a roster of portal content sites and recently has been buying heavily in to online classified advertising services including French property ads site SeLoger for a whopping €633 million and TotalJobs for £110 million.

The publisher also operates (auto classifieds), (real estate) and (e-tail) but its new push in to classified sites minus the content comes through its recently formed Digital Classifieds unit, a JV funded with General Atlantic.

On Wednesday, Springer reported digital media were “the growth engine of the group”, with category revenues growing 21.5 percent over the last year to 34.6 percent of its total. Digital advertising is now more than half of the group’s total (55.5 percent).

“Our digital activities, in part, are generating high double-digit margins,” CEO Mathias Döpfner (pictured) said, without clarifying which part.

So company revenue has grown by 3.9 percent despite a “weak” print advertising market and “ongoing slow economic conditions”.