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ACM: Conditions attached to newspaper delivery no longer necessary

On August 30, 2021, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) decided to grant the request submitted by DPG Media to lift the conditions regarding the distribution of newspapers. These conditions were attached to the 2015 clearance of the acquisition of Mecom by publisher De Persgroep (both of them are now DPG Media). ACM concludes that these conditions are no longer necessary based on two developments. The newspaper industry has changed dramatically, and the two remaining newspaper distributors have signed agreements that offer better protection compared with the commitments.

Distribution of daily newspapers in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, one distributor of morning newspapers is active in each geographical area. This distributor also delivers all other morning newspapers in that area, for a distribution fee. Through mutual insourcing and outsourcing, a network covering the entire country has thus emerged. As a result, the distribution costs of morning newspapers are as low as possible. Newspaper publishers without a distribution network of their own use this network.

What was this case about?

As a result of the 2015 acquisition of Mecom (Mecom’s subsidiary Wegener published predominantly regional newspapers) by De Persgroep (the publishing company behind several major Dutch national newspapers such as Algemeen Dagblad, De Volkskrant, Trouw, and Amsterdam-oriented newspaper Het Parool), various morning-newspaper publishers became too dependent on De Persgroep’s distribution network. ACM cleared the acquisition, subject to conditions. Thanks to these conditions, newspaper publishers without a distribution network of their own continued to be able to choose between at least two different distributors.

Changed market conditions

As a result of various mergers in the newspaper sector since 2015, there are currently two distributors of morning newspapers in the Netherlands: DPG Media and Mediahuis (which publishes Dutch national newspapers De Telegraaf and NRC, as well as various regional papers). Because of decreased newspaper circulation, no new distributors will enter the market. Following last year’s acquisition of publisher NDC (which publishes regional papers Leeuwarder Courant, het Friesch Dagblad, and het Dagblad van het Noorden) by Mediahuis, the remaining distributors are more evenly matched, and both distribute approximately the same amount of each other’s newspapers.

As a result of the acquisition of NDC by Mediahuis, and of DPG Media’s request to lift the conditions, both newspaper distributors have, in consultation with ACM, made arrangements with each other regarding the distribution of newspapers. Cancellation of these arrangements is possible in exceptional situations only. Like the conditions, these arrangements are in place through 2025. Furthermore, these arrangements now also include the newspapers that Mediahuis or DPG Media deliver for other publishers. With these arrangements, the interests of these other publishers are better protected than with the conditions. This way, distribution of all newspapers against fair conditions remains possible.

That is why specific conditions are no longer necessary for DPG Media to comply with. With the arrangements concluded by Mediahuis and DPG Media regarding the distribution of each other’s newspapers, including those of third parties, as well as the lifting of the conditions, Mediahuis’s distribution commitment, which it made when it acquired NDC, lapses, too. That commitment is no longer necessary either. Naturally, ACM will keep a close watch on trends and developments in the sector, and general competition law remains in effect.

How does ACM assess mergers and acquisitions?

With any merger or acquisition, there is a question of whether sufficient competition will remain on that market directly after the concentration, and in the future. Competition ensures that products are of high quality, that they are offered on the market at competitive prices, and that innovation is stimulated. That is why ACM decides in advance whether or not companies are allowed to merge or acquire other companies. ACM assesses whether the markets involved will continue to work well for people and businesses, now as well as in the future.

See also

30-11-2020 ACM clears acquisition of northern newspapers by media company Mediahuis
13-09-2017 DPG requests ACM to lift license instructions (in Dutch)
11-02-2015 ACM clears acquisition of British publishing company Mecom by Belgian rival De Persgroep
19-09-2014 Further investigation needed into planned acquisition of British publishing company Mecom by Belgian rival De Persgroep