Someone needs to do a major rewrite of the Wikipedia article about Axel Springer because it’s not a digital publisher anymore like it says in the online encyclopedia, according to Stefan Betzold, the company’s digital news media managing director.

Europe’s largest media house has repositioned itself as a “media and tech company,” according to Betzold, with an emphasis on data-driven customer differentiation, revenue model diversification, and an aggressive infusion of enabling technology.

Stefan Betzold, digital news media managing director at Axel Springer, kicks off day one of INMA's Media Innovation Week.
Stefan Betzold, digital news media managing director at Axel Springer, kicks off day one of INMA's Media Innovation Week.

Kicking off INMA’s Media Innovation Week in Hamburg, Germany, on Monday, Betzold bypassed a question about his CEO’s recent announcement of significant impending job cuts as part of a cost-cutting programme. However, he did say that U.S. private equity firm KKR becoming the company’s biggest shareholder last month “factors in perfectly” with Axel Springer’s long-term goals.

“It gives us a longer strategic view rather than just being focused on quarterly results,” he said. “In the past there may have been times when we wanted to add more engineers for one of our projects. Now we can.”

Betzold demonstrated for the audience of about 200 some of the impressive technology those engineers would work on, such as a content management system he said “is as easy to use as an iPhone.” The highly automated, drag-and-drop, WYSIWYG interface lets editors fashion and launch new articles and their related teasers customised for target platforms, such as mobile, in just three minutes.

“We need to convert our content to the specificalities of the different platform logics and the different user behaviour of the different platforms,” Betzold said.

Another big advantage of the new system is “the onboarding for new editorial people takes 10 minutes. We used to run onboarding that took days,” he said. 

“This empowers us to create a much more efficient workflow to really focus on journalistic analysis, research, better writing, more writing, and not invest in the legacy workflow.”

In addition to the CMS, other Axel Springer tech investment is focused on extracting “intent data” from the company’s many customer interactions to better capitalise on and monetise those interactions.

Axel Springer’s philosophy is not to shift away from advertising revenue like many media companies are doing, but to layer on new business models with the traditional, Betzold. He identified reader revenues as key among those new models, calling it “one of our key investment initiatives” for the next few years.

Asked what the Bild and Welt publisher’s biggest challenge has been, Betzold said it was changing the company’s culture — what he referred as Axel Springer’s DNA. But then, he added, “we knew it would be hard.”