A little public glimpse today of the ongoing negotiations between Independent News & Media and Alexander Lebedev: the billionaire Russian is getting an extension on his exclusive negotiations to buy the Independent and Independent On Sunday newspapers, “to facilitate bringing these discussions to a successful conclusion”, INM told markets.
Talks between Lebedev and INM have been going on and off for almost 12 months, but were only formally announced on December 18 last year, and were due to expire today. Now the exclusive-talks period ends February 26.
There has been a lot of speculation on what could be happening behind the scenes, although to date nothing concrete has been substantiated. Reports have included questions about Lebedev’s liquidity and who else might be getting involved in the action.
In January, Lebedev sold his 25.8 percent stake in Russian airline Aeroflot back to the state, netting around £255 million in the process, although at the time he said he would use the money to invest in Russian business, not international newspapers. Then there were reports that the Sawiris family, which owns mobile networks and other newspaper assets, were also being brought in on the deal.
Another stumbling block is reportedly around INM’s existing obligations. These include a printing deal with Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI), which would cost more than £15 million to break; as well as pension and redundancy costs, writes the FT.
The jury is still out on how Lebedev’s other UK newspaper asset, London’s Evening Standard, will ultimately fare financially under his ownership. The paper last year bumped up its circulation as it converted to a free distribution model. It now prints 600,000 copies and is being read by 1.37 million people, according to the National Readership Survey.