SoftBank admits it's eyeing Ziff-Davis

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Ending several days of intense press speculation, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son acknowledged at a hastily called news conference Thursday morning that he was in talks to buy Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. from Forstmann Little & Co. The press conference was held at 4 a.m. (ET) or 5 p.m. in Tokyo, shortly after Mr. Son returned from a trip to New York.

Softbank had ignited the reports last Friday by stating that it was in midst of raising $628 million through a new stock issue to acquire an undisclosed computer publisher. Press reports appeared in the Nikkei English News in Japan on Sunday and in the Los Angeles Times on Monday, stating that Ziff-Davis Publishing was the target company. The rumored sale price is $2 billion--a considerable premium over the $1.4 billion that Forstmann Little paid to acquire Ziff-Davis Publishing only last December.

A spokesman for Ziff-Davis said that the parties expect to conclude the talks "within the next several weeks" but declined to comment on the purchase price.

Softbank is a leading distributor of software as well as the leading publisher of computer magazines with 19 titles that sell a total of over 2.5 million copies on newsstands each month. The publicly traded company has annuaul sales of nearly $1 billion. In the U.S., it already owns the former ZD Expos, purchased from Ziff last year for $202 million as well as COMDEX, purchased this spring for $800 million. In Japan, it has licensing agreements to publish MacUser and PC Week.

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