and DAVID HELLIER
The acquisitive appetite of new owners at the 129-title Reed Regional newspaper group is far from being satisfied, and more purchases are already being planned.
"Far from selling off titles, we are planning to expand," Jim Brown, Reed Regional's chief executive, said.
Mr Brown and other key managers of the former Reed Elsevier subsidiary have invested "substantial amounts of money" in the winning bid, led by US buyout specialists KKR. The group saw off four other bids, including one from venture capital firm Electra, paying pounds 205m for the titles.
The group intends to change its name as soon as possible, probably to Prospect Media, and is looking at a range of regional newspapers that may be for sale.
One target could be the 120 regional titles owned by United News & Media, rumoured to be available at the right price. United's regional titles include the Yorkshire Evening Post, the Sheffield Star, the South Wales Argus and the Lancashire Evening Post, and might be worth pounds 200m.
"Of course we would be interested if they became available," Mr Brown said. "They would make a good fit with our existing titles."
The acquisition strategy would be financed by KKR, which will have three seats on the group's board of nine or 10 members.
KKR was first made aware of the attractions of the Reed titles by Glenisla, its London affiliate, set up 18 months ago by Ian Martin, former deputy- chairman of Grand Metropolitan and now chairman of Unigate.
Mr Martin said that the new management "was looking for acquisitions both in newspapers and in parallel media". He discounted suggestions that the market for regional newspapers was unexciting.
"If you provide high-quality editorial and a creative use of colour, even on free newspapers, it is possible to win. KKR's position is that the management team is paramount ... a good team in a sector with potential is what we are looking for."
Acquisitions would be easy to finance. "We are well-capitalised but, at the end of the day, if we need money, KKR will set it up for us."
Mr Brown said that his group was likely to follow a similar strategy to that of Trinity, the aggressive regional newspaper group that earlier this year bought the non-Scottish titles of the Thomson group for pounds 327.5m.