Ian Burrell: The moment Rupert Murdoch's papers were put into play

 

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Despite the bullish futuristic talk by Rupert Murdoch yesterday it was difficult to see the changes at News Corp as signalling anything other than the beginning of the end for his British newspaper stable.

He gushed about tablets and smartphones but it wasn't convincing; for the first time since 1969, Mr Murdoch has given up his hands-on role. Though he retains the figurehead chairman's position in the publishing operation, he remains chief executive only of the entertainment company.

Grouped with The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and The Australian, his London press stable, News International, is likely to see its status diminish. Big decisions may be taken in New York.

"It's difficult to imagine any other reason for doing this other than to isolate [the papers] with a view to sale," Simon Davis, CEO of Walker Media, said.

Price changes announced for The Sun and The Sunday Times underscored the impression that News Corp is extracting maximum short-term value from the titles. The Sunday Times (up by 30p to £2.50) is competing with large Saturday papers that have made a multi-section Sunday paper less appealing and its sales are down 12 per cent on last year. Unlike The Times, which has enjoyed modest success with its iPad offering, the sister title lacks digital presence.

As for The Sun, its circulation is down by 8 per cent on last year and the price rise to 40p makes it 10p more expensive than Richard Desmond's Daily Star. The new Sunday edition of The Sun, which Mr Murdoch used to stick up two inky fingers at critics, has lost a million sales.

Mr Desmond has long wanted The Sun but potential buyers will be aware of the likelihood of further damage to News International properties from ongoing police inquiries. "You wouldn't bid now because the price can only come down," one News International source said. "But we will look back at this time and say this was the moment when the papers were put into play."

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