Archant takeover team: Adrian Jeakings, Nigel Websper and John Fry
Norfolk-based newspaper publisher Archant has outflanked its bigger rivals Newsquest and Northcliffe to buy 27 London weeklies from Independent News & Media.
The £62m deal moves Archant from sixth to fifth biggest regional newspaper publisher and brings it closer to the aim, stated two years ago, of doubling company turnover within seven years.
Newsquest originally agreed to buy the North London titles in March for £60m, but the deal had to be referred to the Competition Commission. A decision was not made until October, when the Government ruled that Newsquest could buy four out of the five divisions up for sale – but not the Kentish Times group.
IN&M chief executive Ivan Fallon said then that the sale was expected to go ahead within a couple of weeks.
But last month Northcliffe threw its hat into the ring by applying to the Competition Commission for permission to buy the London newspapers.
The regulator ruled in favour of Northcliffe last Wednesday, but the following day IN&M announced to the stock market that it had instead sold the titles to Archant.
The privately owned newspaper group was able to steal a march on its rivals by avoiding the Competition Commission to complete a sale with immediate effect.
The Fair Trading Act stipulates that a deal only needs to be referred to the Competition Commission if a company’s total combined weekly and daily sale is over 500,000. By buying the IN&M papers in two stages, Archant avoided a referral.
In the first stage, agreed last Thursday, Archant paid £52m for the North London, East London and Essex divisions. This part of the deal kept Archant’s total sale under 500,000, so didn’t require a referral.
The second stage is due to go through on 30 December, when Archant will pay £10m for IN&M’s North West and Kent divisions.
Although this will bring Archant’s total circulation above 500,000, it still won’t need a referral because the Communications Act comes into law on 29 December, changing the rules.
The deal will consolidate Archant’s London newspaper interests; it already owns the Ilford Recorder series, Newham Recorder series, Romford Recorder series, Hampstead & Highgate Express and Highbury & Islington Express.
Archant business development director Ian Davies assured Press Gazette the deal would mean “no change” for journalists. And he said it was likely that Archant would look into launching new titles in its expanded London patch.
Archant chief executive John Fry said: “Opportunities to acquire regional newspaper portfolios of quality and scale are few and far between. We therefore consider this acquisition to be of significant strategic importance, given the geographical proximity to our existing areas of publication.”
Fallon said he had received approaches from “a number of suitors”, including private equity funds, since the Newsquest deal fell foul of the Department of Trade. He described Archant as the “ideal new owner”.
Archant’s core businesses are four dailies in East Anglia, but it also owns weekly titles in Devon, London, the Home Counties and Scotland and has a magazines arm. It is a privately owned company with shares mainly divided between the members of three founding families.
The titles included in the Archant/IN&M deal are: Barking & Dagenham Post series, Bexley & Eltham Express, Bexley Times series, Bromley & Beckenham Express series, Bromley Times series, Dartford & Swanley Express, Dartford Times series, East London Advertiser, Gravesend & District Express, Gravesend Reporter, Hackney Gazette & North London Advertiser, Hammersmith Times, Hornsey Journal series, Ilford & Redbridge Weekly Post, Islington Gazette series, Camden Chronicle, Kensington Times, North London Weekly Herald series, Paddington Times, Romford & Havering Weekly Post, Stratford & Newham Express series, Wembley Chronicle series, Westminster Times and Willesden Chronicle series.
By Dominic Ponsford