Bertelsmann planning to log off

Media giant set to sell online businesses

BERLIN — German media giant Bertelsmann is sweeping away the last vestiges of former topper Thomas Middelhoff’s efforts at the company as it gears up to sell its online businesses and focus on profitable core operations.

New CEO Gunter Thielen is reportedly in talks with rival Amazon about selling its online book and music businesses BOL and BeMusic. BOL is estimated to be worth some $2 billion; BeMusic is valued at $120 million. Company also holds a 40% stake in Barnes&Noble.com.

Middelhoff planned to turn Bertelsmann into the world leader in online book and music commerce. Under its new leadership, Bertelsmann is more interested in cutting off money-losing ventures.

Bertelsmann also appears increasingly unlikely to reanimate Napster. The former CEO was one of the few supporters of the outlaw file swapper at the group.

Thielen replaced Middelhoff in July with a mandate to return the group to a more conservative path after the aggressive expansion led by his predecessor.

Internet losses

Bertelsmann lost a total of $250 million in Internet startups in the second half of 2001. DirectGroup alone suffered losses of $39 million in the period after sales of $1.5 billion. The division accounts for 15% of Bertelsmann’s total revenue.

Bertelsmann’s core assets include pan-European broadcaster RTL Group, music group BMG and Random House, the world’s leading book publisher.

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