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[london] Global media groups with U.S. interests are among the top contenders to buy the highly profitable IPC Magazines, the U.K.'s leading consumer magazine operation put up for sale Oct. 27 by Reed Elsevier.

The IPC sale is expected to bring about $1.6 billion to Reed Elsevier, which reported sales of $5.5 billion for 1996 and about $1.6 billion in revenue.

According to media analysts, the leading candidates include Dutch media company VNU.


Already a major business-to-business magazine publisher, VNU admits it's interested and is committed to further worldwide expansion, especially in the U.S. and Europe.

Adding a big prize such as IPC to the company's handful of consumer magazines, currently in only the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary and the U.K., would give it a major boost in the consumer sector.

"We are interested," said a VNU spokesman. "But we still don't know the details or conditions [for sale]. However, [IPC] could strengthen our position in the consumer magazines sector in Europe."

IPC generated $509 million in sales in the 1996 financial year, with pre-interest and tax profit of $102 million.


Another potential buyer is Gruner & Jahr, the consumer magazines division of Bertelsmann, Europe's biggest media group. Gruner's U.S. publications include American Home Style, Family Circle, Fitness and McCall's.

A Gruner executive said the company is "considering IPC, but has made no decision."

Although Reed Elsevier declined to comment, takeover company Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. also is among those reported to be interested in IPC.

The publishing companies will be vying for a portfolio of more than 70 titles, including the U.K. edition of Marie Claire; the U.K.'s top-selling TV listings title, TV Times; and Loaded, the vastly successful irreverent young men's lifestyle magazine.

Plans to dispose of IPC follow Reed Elsevier's merger with Dutch publisher Wolters Kluwer to create a publishing giant specializing in business.


"We hope to complete the merger by spring 1998," said Susanna Smart, Reed Elsevier's deputy director of corporate affairs.

"In this business, you either grow something or you sell it, and if Reed Elsevier's focus is on specialist information, then it's good to sell" IPC, said Neil Blackley, media analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co.

The move will boost the cash in the group's coffers to about $8 billion, to be used for developing original titles and/or going on a shopping spree to expand the scientific, professional and business units, said Ms. Smart.


The commitment to specialist titles also explains why IPC's New Scientist is not up for sale.

"We still have business magazines and Elsevier Science, our science specialist information unit-so New Scientist still has a place here," Ms. Smart said.

Reed Elsevier declined to comment on planned acquisitions. And Co-Chairman Nigel Stapleton would not verify claims the group wishes to enter the financial information sector by linking up with Financial Times publisher Pearson or Dow Jones & Co.

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