When Michael Wolff floated the idea that Rupert Murdoch may sell his British newspaper division, many thought the idea of Murdoch ditching his beloved News International was absurd.
Now the Wall Street Journal (another Murdoch owned paper) appears to confirm that some investigations have been held into whether such a sale would be feasible.
The problem the sale has hit, of course, is that the sort of person that buys a newspaper operation is exceedingly rare these days.
News International has three titles after shutting down News of the World last week:
- The Sun – circulation 2,783,110 (April 2011, down 5.85% over the last year). Still the UK’s most read newspaper, The Sun has notably failed to transition online as well as The Daily Mail. The paper makes money.
- The Times and The Sunday Times – circulation 449,809 (down 11.28%) and 1,018,215 (down 8.80%). The Times is the UK’s oldest newspaper. While doing well in circulation terms for broadsheets, the papers’ transition to a paywalled online existence has seen mixed reports of success. Both lose money (and they lose more than the rest of News International makes).
So what current players in the UK newspaper world might actually buy the titles?
- DGMT (Daily Mail and General Trust plc) – Owns the The Daily Mail and associated publications, as well as a number of local/industry titles. The company is profitable.
- Trinity Mirror – Owns Mirror titles, other national and local/industry titles. Profitable, but revenue is flat.
- Guardian Media Group – Owns The Guardian and The Observer, local radio stations, AutoTrader magazine, and a variety of other ventures. The company is not profitable, with the majority of its losses coming via the newspapers.
- Alexander Lebedev – The Russian billionaire and former spy owns The Independent and twin paper i, and also the London Evening Standard. Neither venture makes money.
- Richard Desmond – Owner of Northern and Shell, which includes the Express Newspaper group, the magazines OK!, New! and Star, and television station Channel 5 (along with other interests). The company is profitable.
DGMT, Trinity Mirror and Richard Desmond may possibly want to buy The Sun. In fact, Peter Preston of the Guardian reports that Desmond once made Murdoch an offer (he refused), so maybe he’ll be back. However, it’s also possible the papers might like to see the paper disappear and its 3 million-readers-a-day jump ship to their own flagship titles.
The prospects for The Times and the Sunday Times may be even worse. It’s unlikely that either Guardian Media Group or Alexander Lebedev wants another money-losing broadsheet — one is presumably more than enough. And DGMT, Trinity Mirror and Desmond have never shown much interest in getting into the broadsheet game.
What other options might there be? Preston wonders if an international group such as German publisher Axel Springer might step in, while Adweek has floated the idea of more Russian oligarchs stepping in, or even rich Chinese or oil sheikhs. It’s certainly possible but there has been no indication of interest by any group at this point.
Still, despite the lack of obvious buyers and Murdoch’s love of print, the WSJ reports that talk of a sale could still be revisited — perhaps as it may be the only way for lucrative BSkyB deal to finally happen.
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