Ralph B Congress Speaker
The Di5ru.pt blog

This feature was translated and written from a podcast with Ralph Büchi, the Chair of the Supervisory Board of Axel Springer and keynote speaker for the upcoming FIPP World Media Congress. Christian Kallenberg, a friend of ours did the podcast. Find his podcasts, most of them in German, at We Like Mags. Thanks, Christian, and thanks, Ralph.

Here goes, enjoy the read! 


German media giant Axel Springer has doggedly invested in quality journalism over the years, going against conventional wisdom that there is no future in journalism.

They acquired Business Insider, launched Politico Europe as a joint venture, and acquired the entire Politico business late last year. All the while continuing to invest in their content-driven companies on top of other non-journalism investments.

Ralph Büchi, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Axel Springer, will be one of the keynote speakers at the 44th FIPP World Media Congress in Cascais, Portugal, taking place from 7-9 June. Here he will speak about the future of journalism and what to expect of new technologies, set to transform the industry again.

***Learn more about the Congress, the schedule, and speakers at fippcongress.comDiscounted registration is available until 7 MarchSign up here to join us all in Cascais*** 

Büchi is one of the most influential figures in European media, if not even further afield. He has a unique perspective, having been the founder of a successful startup, a key figure in a multi-national publishing empire, and Chairman of FIPP, the network for global media interested in sharing insights and doing cross-border business.


Ahead of Congress, he spoke to Christian Kallenberg‘s We Like Mags podcast. The podcast is in German, but media reporter and analyst Ashley Norris give his main take-outs from the conversation here.

Büchi spoke about the future of the media, the next digital transformation, and why is he so excited about this year’s FIPP Congress, back live and in-person after a hiatus spanning more than two years of strict lockdowns and other Covid-19 restrictions.

 On journalism, Büchi said, “It wasn’t so long ago that talk of the demise of journalism dominated. This has clearly been refuted. Digital journalism is not just a business model for the future. Digital journalism is already a very successful business model of the present.”

He painted a picture of an industry that has undergone tremendous change in a short time yet has emerged more robust and more vibrant than ever.

He also spoke about what it was like to recently meet friends face to face again after years of Covid-19 restrictions and why he senses huge anticipation among international colleagues to meet in person at Congress again. For him, giving the keynote at the next FIPP Congress signals the returns of some semblance of normality after two tough years.

“I’m Swiss, and we had a kind of Freedom Day here two days ago. The restrictions around Covid have been largely lifted, and everywhere I look, I see only happy faces. People are happy to get a big piece of normality back finally. And above all, they are happy to meet each other again, and I think that is the central theme of this Congress. The anticipation of all the colleagues I talk to is to be able to exchange ideas again in a beautiful place in Portugal. The anticipation is enormous.”

He is a media leader that commands interest. Through various roles at Axel Springer, he has seen how the company has risen to the challenge of digital transformation and emerged fitter and more robust. That will be the theme of his keynote, he says.

“I think that the story of Axel Springer, how we’ve approached this digital transformation over the last ten years, and what’s come out of it, is of key interest. It wasn’t so long ago that talk of the demise of journalism dominated, that media companies no longer had a future, that they could no longer find sensible business models for journalism. This has been refuted most clearly and visibly for all to see. 

“Digital journalism is not just a business model for the future. Digital journalism is already a very successful business model of the present. And I would like to point out how we got there, with our company, with our activities.”


One of the less anticipated effects of digital transition has been a re-ignition of the global ambition of publishing innovators. In recent years, Axel Springer has shifted from being solely a key media figure in the DACH (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) world to a global one via the high profile acquisition of English language media brands.

Büchi says this is the result of a belief that “professional, fact-based journalism is and will remain one of the indispensable pillars of a democratic and free society, or will become even more critical. As a company, we want to play this role in the free world with conviction and also with commitment.” (Ed note: Kallenberg and Büchi recorded this podcast before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered military over the Ukrainian border).  

“We only invest in democratic societies and countries,” he adds, “but we want to use good journalism, professional journalism, to help strengthen and further support these free societies. That is our journalistic mission, and it is not limited to our home market, Germany. The democratic world is large, and we want to take advantage of the opportunities it offers.”

“A second consideration is that size matters. We already believe that growth is about technological and market-specific challenges, and to master them successfully, you need a critical size.”

Investing in English journalism means you have a large market in the U.S.A. opening up to you. With this market as the “home” market, you can expand into the rest of the English speaking media world. 

“English is becoming more and more the lingua franca for politics and business in Europe, Asia and Africa. So the market for the English language is, practically, the world.”

The strategy means Axel Springer has two home markets, the U.S. for its English audiences and Germany for its German audiences. While many publishers are going into ever-tightening special interest niches, Axel Springer has not followed quite the same path with the acquisitions of Business Insider and Politico.

“Focusing on niches definitely makes sense,” Büchi argues. “However, Politico’s business model covers over a dozen topics of specific verticals. And it’s by no means just about political issues; it’s also about scientific topics. It’s also about topics such as cyber security. So Politico has an extensive range of topics. The same applies to Business Insider, one of the leading platforms for digital business journalism in the English-speaking world. We have also opened up Business Insider in recent years. We have renamed the group Insider and now offer more than just traditional business journalism. We believe that there is great potential here in a particular breadth and not just in focusing the offering. 

“Focusing indeed also serves to position a brand. There’s no doubt that we have a political focus at Politico and a business journalist focus at Insider. But thematic opening, I would say, is at least as exciting a model as focusing. I’ll give you an example from another company: The New York Times has achieved its huge success in the digital subscription business by also being much, much broader thematically.”

One of the critical trends in publishing is the personalisation of digital offerings. While Büchi broadly welcomes the innovation, he points out that “there are more limits to personalisation, because the whole data protection issue, the much-discussed data protection, will not only affect advertising. These regulations, which are likely to be tightened, will, of course, also affect content management using algorithms.

“So I do believe there will be personalisation wherever it is possible and makes sense. But I see more growth opportunities in new topics and technologies. Let me give you an example: We recently announced at Springer that we want to develop and offer a streaming platform dedicated to second-tier sports. 

“In other words, topics such as basketball, handball, ice hockey, and not always just soccer. Quite simply for the reason that if I look at Germany now, there are tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people, who follow these sports, who follow teams, and who hardly have the opportunity to follow them in the media in a professionally prepared way.”

Unlike football with its “single-topic huge audience” combined, these niched sports offer Springer a lucrative audience. “Thanks to the new technologies, it is cheaper and easier to broadcast a basketball league game or an ice hockey match than it was 10-15 years ago. Today, everything is much easier.”


Many media companies have struggled with digital transformation ever since the first wave in the 1990s, followed by more in the noughties. Today, they have to get ready for another wave with blockchain, A.I., metaverse and other technologies. 

Büchi admits that his company is monitoring the innovations but hasn’t made big strategic plans just yet.,

“With the metaverse, we have seen the investments that Zuckerberg, Facebook and Microsoft are making in this area. I’m not an online gamer, but much money is being spent on virtual equipment for gamers in online gaming. 

“I am firmly convinced that the new technologies, i.e. all the augmented reality or artificial intelligence or virtual reality offerings, will also enable new business models that can or will be successful. We don’t yet know what these will be. But we do know one thing: This is the next digital transformation that is just around the corner. We should learn from the mistakes that many publishers made in earlier digital transformation waves and now try to get on the learning curve very early here.”


No matter how the metaverse and its accompanying technologies develop, Büchi is confident about the future of the media in general. He believes that there is now optimism, which hasn’t always been the case in recent years.

“There have been very pessimistic statements about journalism as a business model time and again. We all know that subsidised journalism is not a business model for the future. We have to be able to survive on our own. My firm conviction is that the first condition for independent journalism is economic independence. We have to finance ourselves; we have to be able to run successful businesses. 

“I think we have succeeded in showing in the last few years that, on the one hand, entirely new revenue streams have been created, primarily through the digital subscription business.

“Take Bild-Zeitung, for example: Bild-Zeitung was always a newsstand paper. Bild had practically no subscriptions. Today, we have hundreds of thousands of digital subscriptions to Bild. So not only have we created a new business model for Bild, but we have also created entirely new possibilities and forms of expression on the digital level journalistically and the whole moving image offering.

“The offering has expanded tremendously, and we’ve built a subscription business for Bild that didn’t exist in any way before. At the same time, as an industry, we’ve also alleviated some of the one-sided dependence on advertising revenue through growth in digital subscriptions. Of course, we want to remain a desirable partner for the advertising industry. But we don’t want to have to live unilaterally from the revenues generated by advertising our offerings. 


“That has now worked out well. And this should also show that the profession of journalism has a future. We should say that loud and clear because it is crucial for the industry that talented, committed, enthusiastic young people choose the profession of journalism again. If we fail in that, we’re going to have hard times ahead. And we have to turn this somewhat pessimistic, negative narrative that’s come up in the last decade or so about the media; we have to turn that around.”


Büchi has been involved with FIPP for many years. He is a former Chair of the Management Board and remains a committed and active board member.

Through board meetings and events such as Congress, he has built up an extensive global network of industry partners, colleagues and friends.

“I’ve felt very closely connected to the cause of FIPP for many, many years. I’ve also had great encounters and met some exciting personalities at FIPP. Therefore, it is an honour and a pleasure for me to remain on the Board of FIPP. My two years as chairman went by so quickly. You never see the job as finished; it’s never over.”

His 2-year chairmanship of FIPP ended with the last in-person FIPP World Congress in Las Vegas in November 2019. “Then, as a regular board member again, the pandemic came along. That was a huge challenge. Like in our companies, we didn’t know how the markets would react. We didn’t know how well home offices would work. It was very satisfactory to see FIPP didn’t come out of the pandemic weakened; it came out stronger.

“I see the role of FIPP is to enable the exchange of information, experience and knowledge not only on a national level but also on an international level. [It is] to provide insight into business models that you might not find in your market in your own country but which are already working very well in other markets. It dramatically broadens the horizon, and all members will undoubtedly benefit from this. 

“Beyond that, it’s a bit like politics. Certain issues cannot be solved nationally. There are security issues, defence issues, and perhaps environmental issues in politics. Today, many issues cannot be solved nationally; people must tackle them internationally. It is the same in our industry. There are international topics such as data security or data regulation. The solutions to these supranational issues cross national borders.”

Organisations such as FIPP play a central role in opinion-forming with the conversations it generates at events such as Congress, adding to that the increasingly important role of lobbying. This “goes beyond the role of the individual national associations, which are complementary to the international role.”

 ***Meet Ralph at the Congress, 7-9 June in Cascais, Portugal. Learn more about the agenda, speakers, sponsors and activities at fippcongress.comDiscounted registration is available until 7 MarchSign up here to join us all in Cascais***