September 9, 2014 Last Updated 7:51 am

Leading newspaper paywall companies Piano Media and Press+ merge operations

Former Wall Street Journal Europe publisher Kelly Leach named new CEO of the company which, when combined, service over 600 newspaper websites in North America and Europe

The two leading newspaper paywall companies, RR Donnelley owned Press+ and the European company Piano Media have merged. The deal was backed by 3TS capital Partners with the acquisition of Press+ from Donnelley through Piano Media.

Paywall-Post-lgPress+ was founded by Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz in 2009 and sold to the printing giant RR Donnelley in early 2011. US and Canadian newspaper publishers such as Digital First Media, McClatchy and Postmedia Network have been customer of the company. Piano Media, on the other hand, based in Vienna, Austria, but founded in Bratislava, Slovakia, serves newspaper customers mostly in Europe. The two companies both serve about the same number of newspaper customers, though because US newspaper chains are larger, Press+ services far more websites – 560 to Piano Media’s 73.

The new company, which will use the Piano Media name, will be led by Wall Street Journal Europe publisher Kelly Leach. Leach will be based out of London.

Leach-feature“While at Dow Jones I came to understand that the opportunity for the publishing industry to monetize its digital content is immense,” Leach said, “I’m excited to head a company that leads the field in content monetization and which has enormous growth potential.”

The sale of Press+ by Donnelley after only three years of ownership, and reportedly at a price near what they paid, is a sign that the paywall business was not cracking up to be a big opportunity for the company. While insiders may see the publishing business as a large industry, those selling into it do not. Many digital publishing platform companies that have launched to sell into the space are quickly doing an about face and starting to concentrate in other areas such as corporate publishing.

Paywalls are the new mantra of newspaper publishers, but only a handful have been able to report large revenue gains – mostly financial newspapers and The New York Times. But newspaper executives have fallen in love with paywalls as the gains in reader revenue, even small gains, provide somewhat of a counter story to the continuing declines in advertising revenue.

“Paid content has enormous growth potential around the world,” said Pekka Mäki, Managing Partner of 3TS. “We saw an opportunity to acquire Press+ through Piano Media, our existing portfolio company, consolidating the industry’s two largest players and enabling the combined entity to have unrivalled resources, technology, data and knowledge to help clients further build new sources of revenue.”

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