The Lebedevs look set to sell the i paper to regional publisher Johnston Press for around £24 million, escalating rumours that the Independent and the Independent on Sunday could be set to close. ESI Media, Lebedev’s company which owns the i, Indy, Sindy and Standard, admits this morning: “At this stage no decision has been made and we realise the uncertainty that this news will cause our employees and customers”. Following months of rumours, the Telegraph, Media Guardian, and the Times are all speculating that this spells the end for the Indy and Sindy.
ABC figures put the Indy’s average circulation last year at 61,000, compared to 280,000 for the i. The i is unusually profitable for a Lebedev venture, while the Indy lost £5 million last year, and London Live a further £6 million. Given the i’s content comes straight from the Indy, it doesn’t look good for the remaining Lebedev titles…
UPDATE: City Brokers Peel Hunt have put out a negative note to investors:
Potential ‘i’ deal. More print, and bad for JPR bond holders
Life at Johnston Press is never dull. Having just announced ‘a reduction of pension deficit’, JPR is now in advanced talks to acquire the i for c£24m. This looks to be a transaction multiple of c4.5x EBIT, and hence not supportive of JPR’s own current EV multiple. We cannot imagine bond holders or pension trustees will be happy. JPR had cash at hand of c£41m at H1, but gross debt of c£225m, and operating trends have been deteriorating sharply since then. We are in favour of print industry consolidation (see our Media Book published today). However, we are confused by JPR’s business strategy as a regional publisher, which has focussed on paring back print, in favour of digital. The i is an innovative product, but it is wholly print and national. Nationals is a very competitive space, with TNI amongst others rumoured to be in launch mode. Shareholder approval of this deal will be needed.