Magazine article The Spectator

I'm Making No Predictions about the Express, but If You Want to Know What I Think

Magazine article The Spectator

I'm Making No Predictions about the Express, but If You Want to Know What I Think

Article excerpt

For sale, one newspaper group. Its main title has lost over three quarters of its circu lation during the past 25 years. It is barely profitable. It makes Marks & Spencer look like Microsoft. It is not even officially for sale. Many takers? You would think not. The Daily Express and its sister papers do not appear to be a mouth-watering prospect. And yet would-be purchasers are queuing up. The reason is that, however low in the water its titles may be, it is not every day that a national newspaper comes on the market. In fact, it hardly ever happens.

So that explains the interest. Lord Hollick, head honcho of United News and Media, which owns Express newspapers, is playing a bit of a blinder. He may not have been much of a proprietor but he knows how to sell a national newspaper. Or perhaps he simply cannot make up his mind what to do. Either way, his passive approach has succeeded in creating a market. Not all of the possible buyers are happy with his way of doing business. According to one of them, Lord Hollick is `like a second-hand car salesman who wants to sell you a car but won't let you see the log book'.

The interested parties are as follows: there is Hollinger, owner of the two Telegraph titles, and of this magazine. There is Associated Newspapers, which publishes the Daily Mail (for which, I should mention, I write a column). There are the Barclay brothers, who own the Scotsman, though they have officially withdrawn from this race. There are the Indian-born billionaire Hinduja brothers, Srichand and Gopichand, who just happen to be facing possible corruption charges in India. There is David Montgomery, former chief executive of Mirror Group newspapers, who is trying to stitch a deal together. There is Mohamed Fayed, owner of Harrods, though his interest seems to be fading. There are one or two other less plausible suitors. And, of course, others may still emerge from the woodwork.

Who will win? That is impossible to say. It doesn't suit any party to appear too eager, as that would have the effect of pushing up the price. As the buyer of a second-hand car points out all the bumps and scratches, not to mention the smashed headlights, so a possible purchaser of Express newspapers will draw Lord Hollick's attention to his property's shortcom- ings. Also, these various groups do not always know their own minds. One moment it can seem great fun to get your hands on a national newspaper. The next you are suddenly overcome with panic at the thought of all the money you might lose. Some of the interested parties are divided within themselves. There are hawks and doves; those who want to forge ahead and others who have their reservations.

So I can't offer you a forecast. I can't say who is going to buy these newspapers. But I can try to work out what each group might bring to the party, and what might be in it for each of them. On this basis I am tempted to rule out Fayed, if he hasn't already done so himself. He is not an existing newspaper proprietor. That means that he cannot achieve economies of scale. He has no printing plants, no advertising departments and no distribution channels which could swing into action and dramatically reduce the costs of publishing the Express titles. The same is true of the Hinduja brothers. Though they own media interests in India, they have nothing here, and so would find running these papers extremely costly. They also have little or no knowledge of the British newspaper market. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.