Flagship of a pounds 1bn global empire

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The Independent Online
THE INDEPENDENT and Independent on Sunday are to become part of a global newspaper empire with a stock-market value of more than pounds 1bn and leading national titles in Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and Portugal.

Brendan Hopkins, chief executive of Independent Newspapers UK, said he believed a rejuvenated Independent would be a flagship for the group world- wide.

The Independent would be positioned as an unashamedly upmarket newspaper "appealing to a young professional, high-income, educated readership that is truly looking for an independent viewpoint".

There would be immediate and significant investment in editorial quality - a strategy Independent Newspapers believes will eventually justify a pricing policy that will carry a premium for all broadsheets.

However, Mr Hopkins stressed the company had no intention of initiating a price premium for the Independent titles in the short term. The two titles, which last year made operation losses of pounds 7m, will be integrated into Independent Newspapers' existing and profitable UK interests. Together, the two operations will have revenues of more than pounds 100m and will be immediately profitable, even after the extra investment on editorial product.

The Independent titles will be integrated commercially into this existing structure. Joint advertising selling in certain key areas is to start with immediate effect and an exhibitions business is being set up under the Independent's stewardship. Mirror Group, the primary vendor in the transaction, insisted that the transaction would be positive for both for Mirror Group and Independent Newspapers. John Allwood, finance director, said Mirror Group had largely written off its investment in the titles over the last four years and would therefore need to provide only pounds 8m against its profits this year in connection with the disposal. Mirror will retain a printing, distribution and service contract with the Independent worth a minimum of pounds 17.5m over five years.

Independent Newspapers, an Irish-based company which was one of the top performing media shares in the stock markets last year, is spending just short of pounds 30m to buy out the 54 per cent of the Independent titles it does not already own together with associated loans and guarantees. The outstanding equity is being acquired for pounds 3.4m. In addition, Independent Newspapers will assume pounds 26m of Mirror Group loans and guarantees.

Independent Newspapers said it believed that the previous joint shareholding arrangements had restricted the ability of either itself or Mirror to apply its own management expertise to the development of the two titles as fully as each would have wished.