The publisher behind some of Britain’s most popular magazine titles, including Marie Claire, Wallpaper and NME, is close to being sold in a £150m deal that will hive off its pension liabilities.
Sky News can reveal that Time Inc, the US-based media giant, is in advanced talks to offload its UK publishing empire to Epiris, a private equity investor.
A deal could take several more weeks to conclude, but is expected to be announced well before the end of the year unless there is a breakdown in negotiations, insiders said on Wednesday.
The American media group is expected to retain responsibility for the British division’s large pension obligations, according to one source.
The sale by Time Inc will see dozens of the UK’s most recognisable magazine brands changing hands, reflecting continuing uncertainty about the future of parts of the traditional media industry.
The UK division, which was previously known as IPC Media, owns about 50 titles, including InStyle, TV Times, World Soccer, Now, Decanter, Marie Claire UK and Woman’s Own.
While many of them continue to be market leaders in their respective fields, the titles have seen sharp declines in circulation – and as a consequence, advertising revenue – during the last decade.
The media research firm Enders Analysis said Time Inc UK aggregate circulation was 168.7m in 2016 – the highest in the British magazine industry.
However, figures cited by the Financial Times and attributed to PricewaterhouseCoopers suggest that print advertising revenue for consumer magazines will fall to $6.7bn in the US by 2021, less than half the $13.6bn that magazines took in 2012.
Print circulation sales are projected to drop 23 per cent to $6.1bn over the same period, and industry trends are broadly similar in the UK.
British newspapers? are experiencing similar trends, one of the factors in Richard Desmond’s efforts to sell his Northern & Shell publishing empire – home of the Daily Express and Star – to Trinity Mirror.
Talks between Epiris, which is a former owner of the media-buying group Aegis, and Time Inc have been taking place for some time, and are understood to have resulted in the buyout firm being selected as the preferred bidder several weeks ago.
It was unclear on Wednesday whether other prospective buyers were hovering in the event that negotiations with Epris break down.
Time Inc said last month that it was looking to sell the UK magazines division as well as a number of its US-based brands.
Talks earlier this year about a takeover of the entire company faltered after bidders were unable to agree key terms with the company’s board.
The latest disposal plan forms part? of a transformation programme aimed at returning it to financial health.
This week, Time Inc said it would reduce the print-run of magazines including its eponymous news and current affairs title, Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly, in an attempt to make the business more sustainable.
Epiris has backed dozens of medium-sized British companies, including Hollywood Bowl, Hotter Shoes and the Esporta gym chain.
The private equity firm declined to comment, while Time Inc did not respond to a request for comment.