Friday, March 30, 2007

Never a dull moment at PCM

Hardly has the private equity company Apax closed the door to the premises of the publishing company PCM and made off with their financial spoils or the new owner, who was the owner before Apax, let the world know that they are in charge again.

Apax is out now. And the other shareholders, foundations, are in charge again just like they were before Apax was invited in. Those shareholders will look back at the Apax era and most likely shake their heads. What did it do for the newspaper and book publishing company?
- is only tangible product, which just celebrated its first anniversary;
- One board member went out during the Apax regime: Mr Theo Bouwman;
- Two new board members came in during the Apax regime: Ton aan de Stegge and Philip Alberdingk Thijm;
- A free daily was announced in cooperation with a free daily which has been published in the meantime; PCM is now working on its own free publication;
- For the rest, Apax has financially reshaped PCM, but the company will have to pay off the loans for a long time.

So now the foundations are in charge again and they let it know to the world. They sent off Mr Alberdingk Thijm immediately. He had successfully operated at the Dutch financial daily Het Financieele Dagblad, where he shaped a cross-media operation, with print, radio and internet. According to the foundations he was unable to pull off the same trick for PCM. But he walks off at least 2 million euro richer, but of course his name in tatters. And also Mr Aan de Stegge will be slaughtered. He has been asked to stay on for another half year until a new chairman has been found.

All this turmoil normally leads to a period with no strategy or a strategy recalled. Mr Aan de Stegge had already announced that newspapers and education were the spearpoints of the strategy. The book division, except the educational section, could be sold, he said. But surprise, surprise PCM (read the foundations) are negotiating a merger with NDC/VBK, a newspaper and book publisher. Their profiles are quite similar. Both are in the newspaper and book business. PCM is in the national newspapers, while NDC/VBK is in the business of regional newspapers. Both companies have a book publishing division. PCM is heavily mortgaged, while NDC/VBK is well financed. The company have been in talks already for months and are already talking about board members. Rumour has it that the chairman of NDC/VBK, Jan de Roos, will be named the new chairman.

But these merger talks could take some time. Discussions about the cross-ownership in the media are certainly coming up. The competition watchdog will have look into the matter. It might be that the watchdog will ask to sell particular parts. In this way the company would become a conglomerate of national newspapers, with regional newspapers in the North of the Netherlands. But the book divisions would be a problem. Putting the two book divisions together would produce the largest book publishing conglomerate in The Netherlands. There will be two reactions to this. The competition watchdog might ask to sell some companies or some book publishers might step out of the conglomerate and start their own company, as happened with the PCM book publishing companies.

For the immediate future there are two operational projects. PCM will finally launch their own free newspaper, named Dag (translated Day or Goodbye). There are high expectations about the project as PCM is working together with the incumbent telco KPN. PCM will produce the paper and be involved in the internet site; KPN will be involved in the internet site, but mainly work on the exploitation of the mobile/PDA and interactive television side. Another project will be the digital paper project by de Volkskrant and by NRC Handelsblad. As I remarked in the flash item of yesterday: this has been on the drawing boards for long. But now it seems to become reality. I personally would have combined it with the launch of the free newspaper Dag and experimented with day-parting. We will wait and see. I am eager to hear the price PCM is going to ask for the e-Reader and the subscription to the newspaper. Besides, with the merger of PCM and NDC/VBK, an expert company on e-Books and digital paper would be included: Pinion.

For the next half year there will not be a dull moment at PCM.

Blog Posting Number 709

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