Update: INM says in a statement to the stock market that it’s “entered into an exclusive – but non-binding” agreement with Alexander Lebedev to discuss the “future ownership” of the Indy titles. A deadline of February 15 has been set for any deal to be done — the statement is keen to make clear talks are preliminary and there is “no certainty” it will lead to a deal. Keen to stamp out all these leaks, both sides have signed a non-disclosure agreement.
Original: Don’t bet your mortgage on it. We’ve been down this road several times, and yet again reports from Guardian.co.uk and FT.com suggest that Russian billionaire, former KGB spy and saviour of the London Evening Standard Alexander Lebedev is interested in making a bid for The Independent and The Indepedent on Sunday.
The reports respectively cite “one source with knowledge of the negotiations” and “people familiar with the matter” and I wonder whether these are the same sources that tipped off Media Week that Lebedev was in “advanced negotiations” to buy the Indy in June. There seemed to be more credence in The Times’ story the same week that Lededev has had on-off discussions with with Indy managing editor Simon Kelner since June 2008, though this was quickly denied by Kelner (via Guardian.co.uk).
Will this deal fly? Lebedev could get a knock-down price for couple of well-respected but loss-making titles, but whether INM would sell, is another question. The company has been selling off everything but its UK newspapers recently, with digital assets, foreign newspaper stakes and profitable advertising businesses all getting the chop to fund an elaborate debt re-financing plan and return