The most extraordinary deal in UK newspapers for years is very much alive: Russian billionaire and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev is set to buy the London Evening Standard, Guardian.co.uk and Bloomberg report today, with a deal expected to be signed by Lebedev’s son Evgeny that would give the oligarch a 76 percent controlling stake.
The DMGT title is loss-making and has not managed to build a large online audience or hold its paid circulation amid a free newspaper war in the capital — and its prospective owner doesn’t see it as a cash cow: “As far as I’m concerned this has nothing to do with making money. There are lots of other ways. This is a good way to waste money,” he says. No price has been mentioned, but with a fortune of at least $2.5 billion (£1.53 billion), there isn’t much chance of him being priced out of a deal.
And it doesn’t stop there: Bloomberg reports he has signaled interest for INM’s The Independent and Independent on Sunday. No details on that, but it is no secret that the papers represent a burden on INM with their high costs, falling circulation and growing but comparatively small online audience. INM is soon to move in to DMGT’s Associated Newspapers office in High Street Kensington from its Docklands home in an apparently unrelated cost-saving move.