The German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, paralleling its French counterpart Vivendi, recently sacked its new-media champion CEO and is retrenching money-losing Internet investments. Only a month ago Bertelsmann ousted Thomas Middelhoff and inserted Gunter Thielen, an old-fashioned manager who expresses a penchant for operations that actually make money. Taken all together, reports from the Labor Day weekend imply that Bertelsmann is or may be considering selling or abandoning some or all of Napster, Bol.com, BarnesandNoble.com, BeMusic, and CDNow.com.
Everyone agreed that Bertelsmann is in talks with Amazon about buying Bol.com. The New York Times' source cautioned, "There are talks; there is contact. I'm not saying there are negotiations." InternetNews and The Register reported hints of other (unnamed) potential buyers. The Wall Street Journal added concreteness by noting that Bol's annual take, at $88.6 million, is about half that of Amazon's book operation, and that the Bertelsmann operation lost about $29.7 million last year.
Most outlets agreed that Bertelsmann may eventually let go of its investment in the joint venture BarnesandNoble.com, but that any such deal was of lower priority than cutting loose Bol.com. The Times, however, reported that a sale of the separately managed BarnesandNoble.com is not planned. The Times also said that "Bertelsmann denied reports" it will sell BeMusic and quoted a source who claimed that CDNow is not "on the agenda."
And as for Napster -- it's dead, Jim. A court will decide today whether or not to let Bertelsmann buy its assets out of bankruptcy. Even if that deal goes through, the Times claimed that Napster "faces a dim future at Bertelsmann" -- unlikely to get funding in the new austere environment, it would either be folded into another division or closed. A Slashdot poster supplied a suitable epitaph: "I mean, wow. Napster officially dead. Yay. Who noticed?" - Keith
Bertelsmann Talks to Amazon.com About Sale of BOL.com
Bertelsmann to 'pull Napster plug'
Bertlesmann to Sell bol.com; Talks Held with Amazon.com
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