Thursday 29 September 2016

Johnston Press confirms £24m talks to buy i newspaper, future of group unclear

Ashley Armstrong

Published 11/02/2016 | 12:38

Russian businessman Alexander Lebedev. Photo: Getty Images
Russian businessman Alexander Lebedev. Photo: Getty Images

Johnston Press, the owner of the Yorkshire Post, has confirmed that it is in advanced talks to take over the i newspaper in a £24m deal.

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The listed newspaper group said the deal would create the UK's fourth largest print publisher with more than 600,000 paid copies a day and have a greater share of the national advertising market.

The i newspaper made a profit of £5.2m last year, but gets its editorial content from the London Independent.

However, the future of The Independent - which is 30 years old this year - The Independent on Sunday and its website remains unclear as Johnston Press' statement did not mention it.

The i newspaper, which has had its cover price raised twice since its launch to 40p, has been largely credited in helping The Independent stay afloat.

Sources confirmed the i, which was initially launched with a cover price of 20p, is the only subject under discussion between Johnston Press and the Lebedevs.

It is understood that some journalists will move across with the i paper while other content will be generated from news agencies, such as Press Association.

ESI Media, the group that owns The Independent, the Evening Standard and TV station London Live, confirmed the sale talks.

"At this stage no decision has been made and we realise the uncertainty that this news will cause our employees and customers," said Steve Auckland, chief executive of ESI Media.

"Johnston Press are bound by strict PLC guidelines so unfortunately we can make no further comment at this time.

"ESI Media remains committed to our brands, building on our fast growing global footprint, whilst cementing our place as the most important destination for audiences in the capital," Mr Auckland added.

Sources said the costs associated with The Independent and other assets would not be transferred to Johnston, which also owns The Scotsman.

Johnston Press said that its board believed it could grow readership at a minimal cost by leveraging its digital expertise while its regional network would be boosted by the national newspaper brand.

The London Independent newspapers were sold by Independent News & Media back in 2010 when it was majority owned by businessman Tony O'Reilly.

It was bought by Lebedev and he paid just £1 for the titles but he also paid just under £10m of existing debts and assumed other future liabilities and obligations.

Telegraph.co.uk

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