PCM Uitgevers NV
PCM Uitgevers NV
Incorporated: 1970 as Perscombinatie
Sales: EUR 734 million ($700 million)(2001)
NAIC: 511110 Newspaper Publishers; 511120 Periodical Publishers; 511130 Book Publishers
PCM Uitgevers NV is one of the Netherland’s leading newspaper and publishing groups. The company holds four of the country’s five national newspaper titles, including De Volkskrant, NRC Handelsblad, Algemeen Dagbald, and Trouw. The company also publishes regional newspapers, notably Het Parool, based in Amsterdam. De Volkskrant and Algemeen Dagblad are the company’s two largest-selling newspapers, each with a daily circulation of more than 335,000. NRC Handelsblad sells more than 267,000 papers each day, while Trouw sells nearly 128,000 papers daily. The company’s regional titles reach more than 200,000 customers daily. PCM’s other main branch is its books division, which represents some of the most prestigious names in the Dutch publishing world, including JM Meulenhoff, AW Bruna, De Boekerij, Het Spectrum, Unieboek, Standaard, Vassallucci, and Internet book site Boeknet. The company also publishes educational books under the ThiemeMeulenhoff imprint. PCM Uitgevers is a private company and owned at more than 57 percent by Stichting Het Parool (now separated from the Het Parool newspaper) and at 22 percent by insurance company Nationale-Nederlanden Levensverzekering Maatschappij NV. The company posted sales of EUR 734 million in 2001. Yet slumping profits, due to a slumping economy and increasing competition from the radio and television sectors for advertising sales, has caused the company to restructure a number of its operations, including shutting down all of its Internet operations (individual subsidiaries maintain their Web sites without the support of the parent company). In late 2002, the company was also considering spinning off money-losing Het Parool.
The PCM Uitgevers entering the 21st century was the result of a series of mergers as the Netherlands’ press and publishing industry consolidated. PCM Uitgevers itself was formed with the merger of newspaper concern Perscombinatie and book publisher Meulenhoff in 1995, followed by the purchase of Reed Elsevier’s newspaper divison, Nederlandse Dagsbladunie, in 1996. Yet the company’s history represents a large part of the history of Netherlands’ newspaper and publishing industries since the 19th century.
The Dutch resistance during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II gave rise to a number of important newspapers and magazines of the postwar era. Among these were Trouw, Vrije Nederland, and the Amsterdam-based Het Parool. The latter had been launched in 1940 at the beginning of the occupation, and by 1943 its founders had already decided to continue publishing the underground paper at war’s end. In 1944, even before the Netherlands’ liberation, Het Parool’s organization began drafting the framework for a private foundation to govern the newspaper. The choice of a non-profit foundation, rather than a corporation, enabled the new paper to distinguish itself from the country’s privately owned newspapers, many of which had been stigmatized by their conduct during the war— and their pursuit of profit over morality.
Stichting Het Parool was created in 1945, and the foundation’s location remained a secret until the end of the occupation. At first, the foundation was directly responsible for the newspaper’s operations. But in the 1950s, it created a new limited liability company, NV Het Parool, which took over the management of the newspaper. While Stichting Het Parool maintain 100 percent ownership of the new company, editorial and managerial functions were now separated from the foundation.
During the 1960s, the Netherlands’ newspaper industry entered a period of crisis. The rising popularity of television in the country had begun to attract advertisers to the new medium. Many of the country’s newspapers were struggling not just to maintain readership, itself on the decline as people turned to the television for their news, but also advertising revenues. By the end of the decade, the situation led to the growing consolidation of the country’s newspapers.
Het Parool’s turn came in 1968, when it merged with De Volkskrant to form a new company, Perscombinatie NV, controlled at 60 percent by Stichting Het Parool. De Volkskrant was by then on its way to becoming one of the Netherlands’ largest-selling newspapers. That newspaper, however, initially targeted only a smaller part of the Dutch reading public.
Founded in Den Bosch in 1919, De Volkskrant had started out as a weekly newspaper. By 1920, the newspaper had begun appearing every other day, until finally in 1921 the newspaper became a daily. Like many of the Netherlands’ newspapers, De Volkskrant was oriented toward a specific audience segment, namely the growing Catholic workers’ movement of the 1920s. In 1932, the newspaper’s relationship with that movement was formalized when it was taken over entirely by the Rooms-katholieke Werkliedenverbond (Roman Catholic Workers Union). The new ownership moved the newspaper’s headquarters to its own base in Utrecht. From there, De Volkskrant, originally focused on its home region, began to address the concerns of the Netherlands as a whole, building up a subscriber base of some 27,000 throughout the country by the outbreak of World War II. The newspaper had also adopted as a subtitle: “The Netherland’s Catholic Newspaper.”
Unlike a number of the country’s newspapers—most notoriously, De Telegraaf — De Volkskrant escaped the stigma of being a war-time newspaper by shutting down its operations for the duration of the Nazi occupation. Where many of the country’s pre-war newspapers were forced to close at the end of the war for what widely became viewed as collaborative activities, De Volkskrant was able to return to its daily publishing schedule untainted. Led by editor Joop Lücker, De Volkskrant quickly grew to one of the country’s largest newspapers, with a circulation of more than 100,000 readers. Although still owned by the Roman Catholic Workers Union (by then known as the Katholieke Arbeidersbeweging or KAB), De Volkskrant now targeted the broader Catholic reading market.
In the early 1960s, Lücker was replaced by Jan van der Pluijm, who helped transform De Volkskrant into a left-leaning, progressive newspaper. By 1965, De Volkskrant had moved to Amsterdam and dropped its subtitle, although remaining under the KAB’s ownership. The company’s new headquarters placed its directly across the street from Het Parool, and by 1968 the two newspapers were sharing common headquarters under parent Perscombinatie. Each newspaper retained its own editorial staff and policy, functioning as independent entities under the same parent. Indeed, De Volkskrant, with its strong support of the social, political, and cultural changes occurring at the time, began to grow, and by 1970 had topped 200,000 readers.
Consolidation in the 1970s
Percombinatie grew again in 1975 when it added a new title to its portfolio, that of Trouw. That newspaper had been founded in 1943 as an underground paper by members of the Protestant resistance. Trouw became a full-fledged newspaper after the war and focused on the Netherlands’ Protestant community. In 1965, the newspaper changed its printing schedule, becoming a national daily with the acquisitions of a number of regional newspapers.
By the beginning of the 1970s, however, Trouw had begun to expand its editorial policy to include a broader ranger of the Dutch newspaper reading market. This was in keeping with a dominant trend in the newspaper industry: previously, newspapers had been established and set up to support the viewpoint of an ideological or religious movement. In the 1970s, however, and particularly with the creation of the NRC Handelsblad, newspapers adopted a more neutral, information-centric approach. The company also became caught up in the atmosphere of consolidation affecting the Dutch newspaper sector at the time, and in 1972 merged with the Kwartetbladen, a grouping of four Protestant-oriented regional evening newspapers.
The acquisition of Trouw brought a change in Perscombinatie’s ownership, as Stichting Het Parool stepped up its holding to nearly 90 percent. The Perscombinatie grouping enabled its three newspapers to combine much of their operations, including printing and delivery as well as advertising sales, subscription services, and other logistical and commercial areas of operations. Editorial staff and policies, however, remained strictly separated, as the newspapers attracted distinct readership audiences.
Publishing Group at the Turn of the Century
The consolidation of the Dutch newspaper industry had dramatically changed the country’s media landscape by the end of the 1970s. Out of more than 80 independent newspaper groups entering the 1950s, there remained only 27. The consolidation drive continued into the 1980s, which saw the emergence of a smaller number of larger media groups, including VNU, Wolters Kluwer, Elsevier (later Reed-Elsevier), and Wegener. By the end of the 1980s, even the larger groups had begun discussing mergers, as was the case with Perscombinatie and Elsevier.
PCM Uitgevers has as its goal to take a part in maintaining the diversity of opinion in the press in a parliamentary -democratic state and to take part in maintaining the offer of a broad assortment of books. In the recent past, this direction has led to the following strategy: PCM Uitgevers wants to be a leading publishing group in the Dutch language and culture, which, based on strong brands, provides for the need for information, news, opinion, education, culture, leisure, and in this way maintains an interactive, lasting connection with its customers.
That merger never went through. Instead, Perscombinatie discovered a more surprising partner: in 1994, the newspaper company announced that it had agreed to merge with book publishing group Meulenhoff, which held a portfolio of some of the most prominent names in the Dutch book publishing industry, not least of which was the JM Meulenhoff imprint itself.
Meulenhoff’s history stretched back to 1895, when Johannes Marius Meulenhoff set up a business in Amsterdam importing foreign books, which he then distributed to the city’s bookstores. By 1904, Meulenhoff had incorporated as Meulenhoff & Co. and had opened an office in The Hague as well. The company remained focused on the import business, taking over two other businesses in The Hague and the Netherlands. In 1906, however, the company published its first translation, which launched Meulenhoff as a publisher. By 1917, the business had been separated into its two parts, with the publishing wing brought under the name JM Meulenhoff & Co.
Over the following decades, Meulenhoff became one of the Netherlands’ most prominent and respected publishing names. It had also become one of the largest, notably through a steady stream of acquisitions of other imprints, such as the Unieboek group of publishers, including the AW Bruna imprint, and, in 1986, the Dutch-language catalog from Elsevier, which was placed under a newly created imprint, De Boekerij. By the early 1990s, Meulenhoff had acquired another important book imprint, Bert Bakker, which was followed by the Prometheus imprint in 1993. By the mid-1990s, Meulenhoff had grown to become the largest publisher in the Netherlands, with a 30 percent share of the market.
The merger between Meulenhoff and Perscombinatie created PCM Uitgevers, a media giant with combined sales of nearly $370 million by the end of 1994. While PCM Uitgevers faced skepticism over the possibility of generating synergies from merging the two different worlds of newspaper and book publishing, the company faced public outcry the following year when it announced its acquisition of the Nederlandse Dagsbladunie (NDU) from Reed Elsevier.
That purchase—motivated in large part as a means of keeping the NDU out of the hands of rival De Telegraaf —cost PCM around NFL1 billion (approximately $500 million) and brought the company a new major shareholder in the form of ING Bank, which took a 30 percent share of PCM. The purchase also added some $332 million to PCM’s revenues and two additional national newspapers, NRC Handelsblad, with origins tracing back to 1822, and Algemeen Dagbald, established in 1946, and meant that PCM Uitgevers now controlled four of the five national newspapers in Holland. Yet PCM expressed its commitment to maintaining the editorial independence of all the members of its newspaper portfolio.
PCM’s Meulenhoff branch continued its own expansion into the late 1990s, adding the highly regarded imprint Arena in 1997. In 1999, the company added Het Spectrum, among the last of the major independent Dutch publishing houses, which had been founded in Utrecht in 1936. In 2001, the company added a new imprint, Vassallucci.
PCM Uitgevers had ridden high in its status as Dutch newspaper giant in the last half of the 1990s as the soaring economy brought steady rises in advertising revenues. The slowdown in the economy at the turn of the century, however, had cut heavily into advertising spending, while internal tensions at PCM itself were taking their toll; in 1999, the company ousted the head of Meulenhoff, taking over control of that formerly independently managed division, and by 2000 reports began to circulate the company might spin off money-losing Het Parool.
By the end of 2001, PCM’s difficulties had begun to mount as its net profits collapsed, shrinking back from more than EUR 21 million in 2000 to just EUR 1.5 million in 2001. The company also suffered a setback when it announced that year that it was shutting down its Internet support operation, PIM, which had been set up with an investment of more than EUR 60 million in order to provide support services, including staffing, for the company’s newspaper Web sites, as well as to launch the company’s own Internet portal services.
- The Algemeen Handelsblad, the forerunner of the NRC Handelsbald, is founded.
- JM Meulenhoff is founded in Amsterdam as an importer of foreign books.
- Meulenhoff publishes its first translation, which leads it to establish its own publishing operation.
- De Volkskant is founded as a weekly newspaper, which switches to a daily publishing schedule in 1921.
- Het Parool is founded as an underground newspaper supporting the Amsterdam resistance.
- De Volkskrant shuts down its operations for the duration of the occupation.
- Trouw begins publishing as an underground paper supporting the Protestant resistance movement.
- Stichting Het Parool is created as the owner of the newspaper.
- Algemeen Dagbald is founded.
- Het Parool and De Volkskrant merge as Perscombinatie.
- NRC Handelsblad and Algemeen Dagbald merge to form the Nederlandse Dagbladunie.
- Trouw joins Perscombinatie.
- Meulenhoff continues acquiring imprints, buying Unieboek, including the AW Bruna imprint.
- Perscombinatie and Meulenoff merge to form PCM Uitgevers.
- PCM Uitgevers acquires the Nederlandse Dagbladunie.
- Het Spectrum, the last large independent publisher in the Netherlands, is acquired.
- PCM announces a restructuring.
PCM Uitgevers’ difficulties continued into 2002 amid slumping sales and declining readership. The company had also come to suffer from the opening up of the Dutch television market during the 1990s, which, as in the 1960s, had begun to lure more and more advertisers away from the newspapers. By September 2002, PCM announced that it was restructuring its operations, including cutting back on a number of its staff. At that time, the company also announced its intention to spin off Het Parool at an as yet undetermined time. PCM Uitgevers hoped that its reorganization would enable it to regain its momentum as it entered the new century as a Dutch publishing leader.
PCM Landelijke Dagbladen BV; NRC Handelsblad BV; Algemeen Dagbald BV; de Volkskrant BV; Trouw BV; PCM Algemene Boeken BV; ThiemeMeulenhoff BV; De Boekerij BV; AW Bruna Uitgevers BV; Uitgeverij JM Meulenhoff BV; JM Meulenhoff Vlaanderen NV; Uitgeverij Arena BV; Meulenhoff Vastgoed BV; Uitgeverij Prometheus BV; NV Standaard Uitgeverij Antwerpen (Belgium); Unieboek BV Houten 100; Eicanos Verlag GmbH Bocholt (Germany); Uitgeverij Het Spectrum BV; Het Spectrum Electronic Publishing BV; BoekNet BV; Uitgeverij Vassallucci BV; Het Parool BV; Weekmedia BV; BV Randstad Publicaties; Gooipers BV; Wiering’s Weekbladen BV; Dagbald van Rijn en Gouwe BV; VETA BV; BV De Dordtenaar; Rotterdams Dagbald BV.
Newspaper Publishing; Book Publishing; Electronic and Other Media.
VNU NV; HAL Holding NV; Wegener NV; De Telegraaf Holdingmaatschappij NV; WPG Uitgevers BV; Sijthoff Pers BV; Verenigde Noordhollandse Dagbladen BV; PZC Holding BV; Biegelaar and Jansen BV.
“Arena Joins Dutch Meulenhoff Group,” Publishers Weekly, January 27, 1997, p. 17.
Lottman. Herbert R., “Meulenhoff Buying Het Spectrum,” Publishers Weekly, June 28, 1999, p. 13.
——, “Meulenhoff Expands in New merger,” Publishers Weekly, August 1, 1994, p. 16.
Van Grinsven, Lucas “Leading Dutch Publisher Kills Web Hub-sources,” Reuters, September 6, 2001.
Zwaap, René, “De wankelende reus,” De Groene Amsterdammer, November 11, 2000.
——, “Help, de krant verzuipt!,” De Groene Amsterdammer, November 17, 2001.