Murdoch looks for publisher partner

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Rupert Murdoch has signalled he is looking for a possible joint venture partner to take a share in his HarperCollins publishing subsidiary which is struggling to recover from recent losses.

The manoeuvre comes as rumours persist of a possible all-out sale of the publishing house that was formed in 1989 when Mr Murdoch merged the British company, William Collins & Sons, with US-based Harper & Row.

With much of the US publishing industry in the doldrums, HarperCollins reported a loss of $7m (pounds 4m) for the last fiscal quarter that ended on 31 March. Disappointed by the performance, some large shareholders in Mr Murdoch's News Corporation have been pressing for a quick sale of the publisher.

Mr Murdoch indicated that his interest in finding a partner for the business was principally to "cut out one set of overheads" by moving to merge some of the backroom operations such as warehousing and printing.

While he declined to name potential candidates, attention has focused quickly on Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, which is owned by Bertelsmann of Germany. Bantam is reported to have achieved a revenue flow last year of close to $700m.

Bertelsmann, the third- largest media company in the world, has cash to spare and is known to be looking for acquisitions in the US. Other companies that could be in its sights include the giant McGraw-Hill as well as publishers Houghton Mifflin.

The tribulations at HarperCollins have recently been thrown into the spotlight by revelations of an abrupt title-pruning spree by Anthea Disney, the president of the company since April last year.

Since March, the British-born Ms Disney has shaved some 100 titles from her list of books for publication.

Ms Disney, who has denied she is preparing the company for eventual sale, would make no specific comment on the tactics of Mr Murdoch. "We know that News Corporation has been approached about various strategic alliances," she said. "At the moment there is nothing specific on the table and nothing is in the offing."