VNU N.V. History

Ceylonpoort 5-25
P.O. Box 4028
2027 AA Haarlem
The Netherlands

Telephone: (31) 23 546 3463
Fax: (31) 23 546 3912

Public Company
Incorporated: 1964 as Verenigde Nederlandse Uitgeverijsbedrijven NV
Employees: 10,808
Sales: NLG 3.92 billion (US $1.93 billion) (1997)
Stock Exchanges: Amsterdam Brussels Luxembourg OTC (ADR)
Ticker Symbol: VNUVY
SICs: 2721 Periodicals; 2711 Newspapers; 2741 Miscellaneous Publishing

Company Perspectives:

VNU's strategy is to expand professional information activities, expand telephone directory activities, and strengthen consumer information business, resulting in more balanced geographic and media spread, and more activities in growth areas with high margins.

Company History:

The Netherlands' publishing group VNU N.V. has built an international position in consumer and business publications, marketing resources, telephone directories, and regional newspapers. VNU publishes more than 150 consumer magazine titles in The Netherlands, where the company leads this market with a 60 percent share; and in Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. The company's titles include Panorama, Magriet, Humo, Vlata, Yes, Meglepetés, Feeling, and Libelle, giving VNU a total yearly circulation of more than 300 million. The company's regional newspaper holdings are limited to The Netherlands, with a focus on the southern provinces. Titles include Dagblad De Limburger, De Gelderlander, Brabants Dagblad, BN/DeStem, and Eindhovens Dagblad. These titles, with total circulation of 850,000, give VNU 18 percent of the Dutch regional newspaper market. The company also has begun to offer regionally oriented electronic newspapers, accessible through the cable television system.

VNU's international presence is focused more particularly on the business world. VNU has built a strong presence in the business and trade publication and information market, with more than 90 publications in Europe and more than 30 publications in the United States. VNU's Business Information Europe division has a strong presence in the computer magazine and periodical segment, where the company's titles--in The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Hungary, and the United Kingdom&mdash+ace VNU as a leader in this category. The company's U.S. publications include Billboard, Adweek, and the Hollywood Reporter. The company's U.S. presence is focused strongly on the media, music, marketing, entertainment and related markets, as well as on the restaurant and food industries and healthcare markets.

A rising position in the VNU organization is held by the company's telephone directory division. Boosted by the 1998 acquisition of ITT World Directories, the newly renamed VNU World Directories division publishes telephone directories and offers related products and services in The Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and South Africa, under such well-known brand names as the Gouden Gids, the Golden Pages, and Pages d'Or. The company's directories are focused particularly on the business-to-business market. The acquisition of ITT World Directories cost VNU more than US $2 billion.

VNU also publishes and produces for the educational market, including Dutch- and French-language textbooks, magazines, classroom aids, software, and other products. Until the summer of 1998, VNU also had held a presence in the Dutch and Belgium television markets. The company has since all but exited these markets. VNU continues to seek acquisitions to bolster its target markets: after purchasing an Atlanta, Georgia-based trade publisher in October 1998, the company increased its position in the telephone and electronic information service, Scoot Nederland, operated in cooperation with Freepages, of the United Kingdom.

Uniting Publishers in the 1960s

The Verenigde Nederlandse Uitgeverijen, or United Dutch Publishers, was formed in 1964 by the merger of two important Catholic publishing groups, Cebema and De Spaarnestad. Both companies originated around the turn of the century. Cebema was the successor to the Teulings publishing and printing concern operated by the Teulings family. Founded by Coenraad Nicolaas Teulings in 1884, the company's original activity was as a small printing concern. From printing, the company, located in Hertogenbosch, quickly expanded to include binding activities, which in turn led the company toward full-fledged publishing and distribution operations. By the start of the First World War, the Teulings house, which would be led by successive generations of the Teulings family, had become a nationally operating publishing company.

The second half of the later VNU was founded in Haarlem in 1906 as De Spaarnestad, a printing house with the particular mission of rescuing the troubled operations of the Nieuwe Haarlemsche Courant newpaper. The De Spaarnestad concern also took a Catholic orientation--its acquisition of newspaper De Tijd in 1931 would give it one of The Netherlands' most influential Catholic newspapers. By this time, the Teulings house, which would soon take on the Cebema name, also had been growing rapidly. In 1919 Cebema acquired the book publisher L.C.G. Malmberg, enabling the company to expand strongly into this market. In the 1930s Cebema boosted its magazine and newspaper publishing operations with the launch of the Amsterdam-based De Geïllustreerde Pers in 1936 and the acquisition of the Nederlandse Diepdruk Inrichting in 1937.

By the mid-1960s, both companies counted a number of important Dutch publications among their operations, with Cebema publishing the popular magazines Margriet and Revu, as well as three prominent Brabant province daily newspapers; De Spaarnestad for its part published the equally popular magazines Panorama and Libelle, and included among its subsidiaries the publishing firms Internationale Uitgeversmaatschappij and De Tijd/Maasbode. Direct competitors for the most part, both Cebema and De Spaarnestad were numbered among The Netherlands' largest publishing houses.

When the two companies fused, Cebema's 1,700 employees were joined by De Spaarnestad's 2,600 employees to create what the Dutch publishing industry saw as a new publishing giant, with operations in the most prominent publishing segments of newspapers, consumer magazines, and book publishing, while continuing its printing operations. VNU quickly asserted itself, beginning a string of acquisitions to consolidate its position as an industry leader. In 1967 VNU added Het Nieuwsblad van het Zuiden, a publisher of important regional newspapers with a focus on the southern (and more Catholic-oriented) Dutch provinces. That same year brought book publisher Het Spectrum, a publisher of Catholic market books. The Het Spectrum acquisition marked the secularization of VNU, however; after being merged into VNU, Het Spectrum exited the religious book market to focus on fiction and translations.

VNU closed out the 1960s with the purchases of two more important Dutch industry companies. In 1968 VNU added the Offsetdrukkerij Smeets, then a leading European offset printing firm. At the same time VNU further strengthened its printing capacity with the addition of the publishing and printing operations of the Nederlandse Rotogravure Maatschappij (NRM), based in Leiden.

Reorienting Toward the Turn of the Century

The 1970s would see continued growth for VNU, but also a shift in its direction. The acquisitions of publisher Intermediair and its trade journal titles in 1973, the industrial bookbinding operations of Belgium's Reliure Industrielle de Barchon in 1974, followed by the 1975 acquisition of Diligentia, another publisher of trade journals, had made clear VNU's new orientation toward the business publication market in particular and the magazine and periodicals market in general. This new direction was the result, in part, of the company's restructuring moves made during the decade. After finding it difficult to digest its many acquisitions in the early part of the 1970s, VNU hired management consultants to help reorganize and refocus the company.

The results of this restructuring brought VNU to exit the book publishing market altogether by the end of the 1970s. After selling off its book publishing operations, VNU concentrated on building its business information segment, particularly on the international front, with a strong interest in the U.S. market. VNU also began extending its consumer magazine titles, not only within The Netherlands and Dutch-speaking Belgium, but into other European countries as well. Two U.S. acquisitions were made at the end of the 1970s: those of Computing Publications and Business and Career and Business Publications.

VNU continued to expand its European trade and consumer magazine base during the 1980s, while continuing to build on its position as a dominant Dutch and Belgian regional newspaper and magazine publisher. Meanwhile, its attention turned to boosting its U.S. presence. In 1985 VNU acquired database and business information provider Disclosure. While this company would be resold in 1994, fetching a price of US $200 million, VNU used Disclosure as a springboard for building a wider U.S. position in business information services.

VNU's early moves into the U.S. trade magazine market offered less than satisfactory results. In 1986 VNU purchased Hayden Publications and its computer industry titles such as Personal Computing and Computer Decisions. A bottoming of the computer market at the end of the decade, however, led to severe losses. After less than three years with VNU, Hayden's titles were put up for sale.

Back home in The Netherlands, VNU continued to strengthen its position. The acquisition of Audet in 1988 gave it the top position in the Dutch regional newspaper market, expanding VNU's titles to include such important regional papers as Dagblad De Limburger, De Gelderlander, Brabants Dagblad, BN/DeStem, and Eindhovens Dagblad. At the same time, VNU began developing an interest in another market entirely: television. On the European scale, VNU would enter the British, Spanish, French, and Italian markets, while continuing to strengthen its Belgian presence.

The decision by the Dutch government in the late 1980s to allow advertising in the country's television system--which had been entirely commercial-free until then--sent a shock through VNU. With much of its revenues generated by advertising, VNU reasoned that the opening of television to advertising would cause a deep cut in its own revenues. To protect itself, then, VNU began acquiring interests in a number of burgeoning television stations. These included an 11 percent share of the Belgian VTM, a position which VNU would raise to 44 percent by the mid-1990s, and a 19 percent share--later doubled--in RTL4, the first commercial television station to begin broadcasting specifically to the Dutch market.

Unlike other countries, almost all of The Netherlands' homes were linked to cable television systems, which provided the primary source of television and radio broadcast reception. VNU's television holdings would lead it to explore using the cable system's teletext service to provide electronic newspaper services.

In the 1990s VNU began looking for new markets to conquer. Specific targets included the Eastern European countries, emerging from Soviet domination to develop free market systems in the 1990s. At the start of the decade, newsstands in these countries featured a new title, Moscow Magazine, published by VNU. After establishing positions in the Hungarian and Polish markets, VNU made a strong move into the Czech Republic, acquiring Kwety Ceske, that country's largest publisher of consumer-oriented magazines.

VNU also made the decision to focus more strongly on its publishing operations. In the early 1990s the company sold off its graphics division. In 1993 VNU sold its printing operations to Koninglijke De Boer Boekhoven. The company next sold Disclosure, in 1995, to the United States' Primark for $200 million. VNU followed that sale with the purchase of the U.S.-based SRDS, strengthening its share of the North American business information market. This acquisition followed upon VNU's 1993 purchase of BPI Communications, which added famed industry titles including Billboard and the Hollywood Reporter to VNU's growing list of U.S. trade periodical titles.

In the late 1990s VNU would continue its penchant for redefining its operations. In March 1997 the company announced its plan to reorganize its consumer magazine holdings into a single operating division; the company's many magazine titles would be grouped into nine subdivisions according to target market (women's, men's, youth, living, etc.), with a tenth division providing business and other backup services.

At the end of 1997 VNU announced its intention to perform one of its largest acquisitions to date. This acquisition, of the directories publishing arm of ITT Sheraton, was finalized in February 1998. For the price of US $2.1 billion, VNU acquired ITT World Directories' leading position in six markets, including The Netherlands and Belgian, and its brand ownership of the Gouden Gids (the Dutch Yellow Pages). The newly acquired division, renamed as VNU World Directories, not only added a new market to VNU, but a new core product focus. The company's interest in the directories market--with its extendability into the booming Internet directories market--was explained in part as well by the relatively steady advertising revenues generated by the division's primarily business-to-business directory publications.

Meanwhile, VNU had lost interest in the television market. The threatened collapse of print advertising that was to follow in the wake of commercial television never materialized. In August 1998 VNU sold off nearly all of its television holdings, retaining only a minority share in a local television network. At the end of 1998 VNU would continue to build around its new redefined core markets, acquiring U.S.-based trade publisher Shore-Varrone and its Display & Design Ideas and Sport Trend titles, among others, in October; acquiring 49 percent--with the option of 100 percent ownership in 2003--of retail and food industry software developer RMS, based in Connecticut; acquiring in May 1998 Drama-Logue, an actors' trade magazine, 65 percent of Sunshine Group Worldwide, and three Young/Conway Publications periodicals; and closing the year with an increase of its position in telephone and online information service Scoot Nederland, operated in partnership with Britain's Freepages. As the publishing industry underwent a transition toward a reduced number of globally operating megapublishers, including Wolters Kluwer and Reed Elsevier, also of The Netherlands, and Germany's Bertelsmann Group, VNU clearly had staked out its own growth targets for the future.

Principal Subsidiaries: VNU Tijdschriften BV (Netherlands); Accres Uitgevers BV (Netherlands); Admedia NV/SA (Netherlands); De Geïllustreerde Pers/MC VOF (Netherlands; 50%); Uitgeverij Woudestein BV (Netherlands); Mediaxis (Belgium); VNU Magazine Group International BV (Netherlands); British European Associated Publishers Ltd. (UK); Erasmus Press Kiadói (Hungary); Figyelö Publishing Ltd. (Hungary); Mona Praha VOS (Czech Republic); VNU Dagbladengroep BV (Netherlands); VNU World Directories Inc. (Belgium); VNU Business Information Europe BV (Netherlands); Benelux Periodieken BV (Netherlands); Array Publications (Netherlands; 85%); Learned Information (Europe; UK); Gruppo Editoriale Jackson Srl (Italy); VNU Publications France SA; Diligentia Business Press NV (Belgium); Business Publications España (25%); Claritas (USA; UK; France; Italy; Spain; Germany; Switzerland; Sweden; Austria); VNU USA Inc.; Spectra Marketing Systems Inc. (USA); Trade Dimensions/National Research Bureau (USA); Competitive Media Reporting (USA); National Research Group Inc. (USA); Interactive Market Systems (UK; Canada; USA); Broadcast Data Systems (USA; 89%); BPI Communications Inc. (USA); Bill Communications Inc. (USA).

Further Reading:

  • "Dutch Publisher Acquires U.S. Trade Publications," New York Times, May 21, 1998.
  • "Louter goed nieuws bij uitgeversconcern VNU," De Telegraaf-i, March 20, 1998.
  • "VNU nu bijna geheel uit tv-activiteiten," De Telegraaf-i, July 18, 1998.
  • "VNU sluit miljardenlening voor overname," Het Financieele Dagblad, June 2, 1998.
  • "VNU To Sell Broadcasting Interests," Screen Digest, May 1, 1998.
  • "VNU ziet enorme voordelen in koop World Directories," De Telegraaf-i, December 20, 1997.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 27. St. James Press, 1999.