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Further investigation needed into planned acquisition of British publishing company Mecom by Belgian rival De Persgroep

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has come to the conclusion that the planned acquisition of British publishing company Mecom by Belgian media company De Persgroep requires further investigation. If the planned acquisition were to go through, it would create a publishing company that publishes national and regional newspapers, as well as free local papers, in almost the entire Netherlands.

De Persgroep is the publishing company behind several major Dutch national newspapers such as Algemeen Dagblad, De Volkskrant, Trouw, and Amsterdam-oriented newspaper Het Parool. Mecom’s subsidiary Wegener publishes the following regional Dutch newspapers: De Gelderlander, De Stentor, Brabants Dagblad, BN/DeStem, Eindhovens Dagblad, Provinciaal Zeeuwse Courant and De Twentsche Courant/Tubantia.

Together, De Persgroep and Mecom would be so large that advertisers would simply be unable to ignore them if they wanted to purchase advertising space in a Dutch daily newspaper. As a result, newspaper advertising rates could go up. In order to be able to rule out the possibility that advertisers are negatively affected by De Persgroep’s acquisition of Mecom, ACM wishes to further investigate, among other aspects, to what extent advertising online, on the radio and on television are alternatives to advertising in newspapers.

Further investigation is also needed into printing and delivery of newspapers, according to ACM. After the acquisition, newspaper publishers without a printing press of their own would have less choice. With regard to delivery, other newspaper publishers would become more dependent on De Persgroep after the acquisition. De Persgroep and Mecom currently also deliver the papers of other newspaper publishers, each in their own regions. The planned acquisition could result in higher printing and delivery costs for the other newspaper publishers. And that, in turn, could affect the price and/or quality of those newspapers, thereby harming consumers.

ACM’s preliminary investigation has revealed that readers of Mecom’s regional newspapers hardly consider De Persgroep’s national newspapers as an alternative. For example, readers of Mecom’s regional newspapers rarely switch to any of De Persgroep’s papers. Conversely, readers of De Persgroep’s national newspapers would continue to have enough alternatives. ACM thus concludes that the acquisition will have no effect on this aspect, and will thus leave this out of the more detailed investigation.

As a result of ACM’s decision, De Persgroep will have to apply for a license with ACM if it wishes to continue with its acquisition plans. Once the license application has been received, ACM will have thirteen weeks to complete its follow-up investigation.