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Springer Sold to Private Equity Firms EQT and GIC

Springer Science and Business Media is to be sold to EQT, a Swedish private equity (PE) firm, and GIC, a PE fund backed by the government of Singapore. The deal is expected to close by late January or early February 2010. The German company is the world’s second largest scientific, technical and medical publisher after Reed Elsevier and was formed in 2003 by the merger of Kluwer Academic Publishers and Bertelsmann Springer.

The announcement of the purchase comes only days after British media group Informa, under pressure from shareholders, pulled out of discussions to buy the company, saying it could not close the deal within the timescale required by previous PE owners Candoven Investments and Cinven.

The details have not been disclosed, but it has been estimated that the deal is worth €2.3billion ($3.4 billion). The deal is priced to take into account the fact that the purchasers will take on Springer’s debt pile which is in excess of €2 billion ($2.9 billion). EQT is to buy 82% of the company and GIC the remainder.

Derk Haank, Springer’s CEO, described “constructive and collegial discussions” with EQT and added that the deal “will allow us to move our ambitious and ongoing ‘e’ strategy forward”.

What are the implications for the publishing industry? Compared with the deal values which were being touted when Candover and Cinven were originally trying to offload the business, EQT have got themselves a bargain. According to the Financial Times, the purchase values Springer at around 8 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, which is similar to rival Reed Elsevier.  Springer’s business is sound, turning over €880 million ($1290 million) in 2008. The looming squeeze on public sector budgets introduces a very real note of uncertainly into the equation, but in general Springer is operating in markets with reliable cash flow and low reliance on advertising.

For those inclined to look for green shoots of economic recovery, the deal says most about the state of the leveraged buyout sector. The deal is Europe’s biggest private equity transaction for more than a year, and an indication that the PE industry is pulling out of the credit crunch. Whether or not this is a good thing for the publishing sector will no doubt be open to debate. Possible buyers from within the publishing industry who, in less turbulent times, might have been interested in an acquisition of Springer, do not appear to have been in a position to do so, probably either because of regulatory concerns or because they have their hands full with their own business challenges. 

Intriguingly, there is still speculation that a merger between Springer and Informa could lie in the future, but for the time being this draws a line under a particularly convoluted and long-drawn out courtship ritual.

SLA Europe Invites Entries for Early Career Awards

 SLA Europe is inviting new information professionals to apply for an all-expenses paid trip to the 2010 SLA Conference, which will take place 13th-16th June in New Orleans, USA.

 The deadline for applications is 31 January 2010, and winners will be notified in February.

 Full details on eligibility rules and the application procedure are here.

New York Times Introduces New Reading App

The New York Times has launched a new online tool that aims to make the experience of reading news on the web feel more like browsing through the print edition. Times Skimmer (www.nytimes.com/timesskimmer) attempts to retain the look and feel of a printed paper.

Skimmer sorts articles into sections such as ‘World’ or ‘Business’ and within each category presents  an array of headlines and summaries in a grid layout which utilises the full screen width. Users can choose from 7 different customised layouts.

Playing around with presentation of news online in this way calls to mind Google’s recently launched Fast Flip (http://fastflip.googlelabs.com/) which allows users to quickly ‘flick’ through content from a number of partner publishers. In contrast, Michael Wolff and Patrick Spain’s  Newser (www.newser.com),  which has been around since 2007, attempts to present online news in a way that deliberately moves away from the print idiom to a native web approach which allows users to customise their preference for ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ news.

It’s refreshing to see another major newspaper publisher trying a new format. It’s worth noting though that Skimmer’s prototype was launched in February 2009 – that is, before the current hubbub around the issue of paywalls and subscription models for online news kicked off. Would the NYT do the same thing if it were starting from scratch in the current climate?

New Project to Archive Web Shortcuts

If you blog, tweet or simply like to click through many layers of links as you surf, then you’ll be familiar with url shorteners, the handy tools from organisations such as Bit.ly ot TinyURL which slim down long web addresses to more manageable lengths.  But have you ever stopped to think what would happen if one of these shortcut services ceased to exist, taking all its services and software with it?

In response to this problem, the Internet Archive has set up 301Works, an archiving project which will be able to keep the links running in the event of the demise of any member companies. Read analysis from Searcher’s Barbara Quint and comments from project director Stowe Boyd, here.

Information Industry Forecast for 2010

As 2009 draws to a close, Information Today’s Barbara Brynko asks industry figureheads to share their insights into the state of the information industry, and predict what lies in store for the year ahead. Check it out here.

 

Google’s UK MD gives evidence to MPs: “Google is not a parasite”.

Matt Brittin, Google’s UK MD, gave evidence this week to the UK government inquiry into the future of local media and denied accusations that Google is a “parasite” on traditional newspapers.  The Department of Culture, Media and Sport inquiry is examining the impact of digital convergence, new media technology and changing consumer behaviour on the UK regional newspaper industry.

Brittin described Google as a “virtual newsagent”, and noted that publishers can choose not to have their content indexed if they wish. At the same time he acknowledged that the economics of newspaper publishing are now very different from the time when the only place to advertise was the local paper.  “Online everybody needs to experiment”, he commented, praising regional newspaper publisher Johnston Press’s recent decision to test paywalls on some of its local papers.

He also spent some time explaining the new restrictions which allow publishers to limit clickthroughs from Google News to their subscriber-only content.  

Brittin maintained a careful distinction between the revenue models of Google News compared to Google web search, the nuances of which might have been lost on the MPs who were grilling him. It’s a fine line, and it’s easy to paint Google as being responsible for the current woes of the newspaper industry. As Brittin point out, though, Google delivers 100,000 clicks per minute ­­— that’s 4 billion clicks per month — to news websites worldwide. Not quite the stuff of pantomime villains.

Video of the entire session is here.

Internet Librarian International Announces Dates for London 2010

Internet Librarian International has announced that the 2010 Conference will take place on 14 & 15 October 2010, with pre-conference workshops on 13 October.  The venue will once again be Novotel London West in London, UK.

The 2009 event was a great success with attendees from 33 countries – to get a flavour of the conference, check out this video interview with keynote speaker Cory Doctorow, and watch Dr Peter Murray-Rust’s challenging keynote address. Review the entire 2009 event, and watch out for 2010 developments here.

Google Books revised settlement – French, German and other non-English books excluded

Searcher’s Barbara Quint gives the lowdown on the revised Google Books Settlement, which once finalised will enable Google to make available millions of out-of-print books in the US.

The international scope of the agreement has been reduced, although books published in Canada, the UK or Australia – countries which share legal frameworks and book industry practices  – are still covered. Dan Clancy, engineering director for Google Book Search, confirms that foreign works will continue to be added to the Google Books collection, and although “users will not have access to the full text or to the extended Preview mode for the bulk of foreign in-copyright works, they will still be able to search them, identify relevant items, and read the snippets.”

Live from London

Don’t miss InfoToday’s 7th annual ‘Live from London’ coverage from the Online Information conference and exhibition, starting next week (30 November - 3 December). Exploring the theme of ‘State of the Industry’, IT’s editors Barb Brynko, Marydee Ojala and Dick Kaser will be interviewing participants to determine concerns, priorities, issues and tactics and ask how the information industry is doing, and where’s it going.  Check out the trailer here.

Welcome

Welcome to the Information Today Europe blog. Here you’ll find news, comment and analysis on the information industry in Europe, brought to you by the publisher of Information Today, ONLINE Magazine, EContent, KMWorld and Searcher, and the organiser of Internet Librarian International.