Independent News & Media confirms talks over potential newspaper sale

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The Independent Online

Independent News & Media, the publisher of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, is in talks with the newspaper owner Alexander Lebedev over a potential sale of the titles.

INM confirmed the negotiations in a statement to the market yesterday. The group said it had entered into an exclusive, although not binding, agreement with Mr Lebedev "and is currently engaged in discussions with regard to the future ownership of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday".

The agreement with Mr Lebedev, who owns the London Evening Standard and Novaya Gazeta in his native Russia, expires on 15 February, and the company said there was "no certainty that these discussions will lead to the finalisation of a transaction of any kind".

The group said the discussions "were still preliminary at this stage and are subject to due diligence, agreement on the financial consequences of the transaction for INM, and a number of substantive contractual conditions being fully satisfied to all parties".

The statement did not reveal the commercial terms of the discussions as the parties are subject to a non-disclosure agreement.

In January, Mr Lebedev paid a nominal sum to buy 75 per cent of the Standard from Daily Mail & General Trust, publisher of the Mail titles. The paper dropped its cover price in October and increased circulation from 250,000 to 600,000 as it looked to take advantage of the closure of rivals The London Paper and London Lite.

The Standard's move was part of a strategy to lift revenues in an industry hit by a fall in advertising during the economic downturn.

However, INM revealed in October that revenues had improved since July as the advertising market stabilised. It has been a positive end to the year for INM. This week, shareholders backed the group's rights issue, with those owning more than 97 per cent of its shares subscribing. This formed part of the group's deal with its bondholders to restructure the debt that had been due to mature in May.

The plan included a debt for equity swap and a series of asset disposals. The most recent sale was of its 49 per cent stake in Verivox, the price comparison site, this month, and disposals include INM Outdoor as well as stakes in Cashcade and Jagran Prakashan. This brought debts down by €350m (£310m).

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