Johnston Press has confirmed it is in advanced talks with the Lebedev family to take over the Independent's cut-price tabloid i Newspaper. The Yorkshire Post owner said it is likely to pay £24m for the paper.
The London-listed local press giant, which holds more than 200 titles, said that the newspaper could provide more national advertising opportunities. The i Newspaper, currently sold at 40p, has 600,000 paying customers across the country. Johnston Press also named the i's growing circulation revenues as key benefit of the prospective takeover.
"There can be no certainty that the discussions between the Company and IPL will lead to any definitive agreement concerning the possible acquisition or as to the final terms of any such agreement," Johnston Press said in a statement responding to press speculation. "Completion of the acquisition would be subject to the approval of shareholders of the Company."
Johnston Press and IPL are not discussing the sale of any other Independent publications, the parties have said.
Independent Print Limited (IPL), the company behind the Independent, the i100, the i and the Independent on Sunday, was bought for a symbolic £1 by Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev in 2010.
The i made an "unaudited carve-out" operating profit of £5.2m in the 12 months to 30 September 2015, Johnston Press said.
The success of the publication since its launch in 2010 has been relatively surprising considering the time of declining newspaper sales. However, the i has managed to settle itself in the market as cheap left-wing tabloid covering basic news. In 2010, the newspaper was sold at 20p but the selling price increased twice and is currently at 40p per copy.
After the i was quietly put on sale in December 2015, the Mirror group was one of the other parties battling to takeover i Newspaper, but opted to focus on its own publication. The tabloid publisher bought local rival Local World for £220m in October 2015. Rupert Murdoch's massive News UK, owner of the Sun and the Times, was reportedly also among those interested in the i.
Popluar political blog Guido Fawkes published a leaked email which was sent to all Independent employees by editor-in-chief Amol Rajan, saying they cannot comment on the news yet.
Further to Steve's email just now, I am very conscious that this morning's news about Johnston Press will prompt a lot of questions and uncertainty.
I am very sorry to say, however, that for the time being we really are bound by strict rules on what we can and can't say about this potential deal.
For that reason we are not in a position to address all staff this morning. I will obviously do all I can to keep everyone updated as soon as possible, within the guidelines of the law.
Thank you very much indeed for your understanding in the meantime.
The Guardian reported that Lebedev is considering to close down the Independent's print publications, moving to a web-only business. According to the report, Lebedev will use the money saved by going online-only to invest in the Independent's website, independent.co.uk.