Sources familiar with the two companies think a transaction could close within weeks.
In January, Axel Springer bought a minority stake in Business Insider, via a $25 million funding round that valued the company, founded by former Wall Street analyst Henry Blodget, at around $200 million. This new deal pegs Business Insider's value at around 500 million euros, sources say.
Last week, German Manager Magazin reported that Axel Springer was looking to buy a controlling stake in Business Insider. But people familiar with the transaction say that the plan is for a full acquisition. Blodget declined to comment, as did a rep for Axel Springer.
(Disclosure: If the Axel Springer/Business Insider deal goes through, it should be good news for me. I used to work for Blodget at Silicon Alley Insider, the predecessor to Business Insider, and I own shares in the company.)
Business Insider hasn't disclosed its revenues recently. In 2013, it did around $20 million. In January, when Blodget announced his latest funding round, he said revenues had grown 70 percent in 2014, and that the company was "solidly profitable" in the second half of the year.
A few months later, Business Insider COO Julie Hansen said the company wasn't profitable, because it was plowing resources into expansion. It has recently launched a U.K. edition as well as TechInsider, a site dedicated to "tech, science, innovation, and culture," as well as Insider, a publishing project that aims to push most of its content to other platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
In the last few years, a flurry of investors have placed increasingly big bets on digital publishers, in the hopes they have figured out how to find — and make money from — young audiences that are abandoning traditional media like newspapers and television. This summer, for instance, Comcast's NBCUniversal put $200 million into BuzzFeed and another $200 million into Vox Media, which owns this site. Those investments valued those companies at $1.5 billion and around $1 billion respectively.
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But transactions where someone shells out big money to actually buy a digital publisher are less common. Up until now, the biggest one in this era of was AOL's $315 million acquisition of the Huffington Post in 2011.*
Berlin-based Axel Springer is best-known in Europe as the owner of newspapers Die Welt and Bild. Earlier this year it tried to buy the Financial Times from Pearson but lost the deal at the last second to Japan's Nikkei. Axel Springer has partnered with Politico on a European version of the Washington politics site, and has invested in digital publisher Ozy.
Axel Springer CEO Mathias Doepfner has been public about his interest in making other digital investments, but until now industry observers have been skeptical that the company was serious about making a substantial bet.
Business Insider has raised $57 million since 2007.
*If you expand the category to digital video networks, the price tags get higher. Disney will likely end up paying around $700 million for Maker Studios, which it bought last year; last year Amazon also paid around $1 billion for Twitch, the site where people watch other people play video games.