US media firm poised to buy a very British publisher

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The Independent Online

Some of the most quintessentially British magazines, including Loaded, Horse & Hound and NME, are poised to fall into American hands.

IPC, Britain's biggest magazine publisher, is close to being bought by AOL-Time/Warner, the world's biggest media group, in a deal worth more than £1bn.

Should the US company secure the purchase, it will inherit IPC's stable of more than 70 magazines, which also features titles such as Country Life, What's On TV and Ideal Home.

The deal will create a windfall for IPC's management – including chief executive Sly Bailey – who own a 10 per cent stake in the company.

IPC was bought from Reed Elsevier, the Anglo-Dutch media group, three years ago for £920m. Cinven, a venture capital firm, led the buy-out group and has been anxious to cash in its investment for some time.

Yesterday the firm said: "Cinven confirms that it and IPC are in discussions with Time Inc (AOL-Time/Warner) about the possible sale of the company. There can be no assurance that a transaction will result."

One source of dispute has been deciding the price, a task made harder by the continuing downturn in advertising revenue. Now, however, a deal is imminent, with sources saying the American firm has despatched accountants for a final probe of IPC's books. Once concluded, a formal agreement could be finalised within days.

Combining IPC with the US group would create one of the world's premier magazine publishers. In addition to Time, the US company also publishes Fortune, Sports Illustrated, People and more than 50 other magazines. Its main assets are AOL, the internet service provider, CNN, the news channel, and extensive interests in music and film through Warner Brothers.

It already has a strong presence in the UK from its extensive editorial offices at Lancaster Place near The Strand in central London. Two years ago, it acquired Wallpaper when the lifestyle magazine was about to close. Since then, helped on by substantial investment, the title has expanded around the world.

Steve Case, the former head of AOL and the chairman of the combined group, wants the company to garner more than half its total sales from outside the US within a decade, compared to less than 20 per cent now.

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