Cross-Border Newspaper Ownership

By O'Connor, Robert | Editor & Publisher, April 24, 1993 | Go to article overview

Cross-Border Newspaper Ownership


O'Connor, Robert, Editor & Publisher


THE 12-NATION European Community sees the beginnings of a market in cross-border newspaper ownership.

La Repubblica, the Italian national daily, and El Pais, the Spanish national daily, have a presence in the British national newspaper industry with their stakes, of more than 18% each, in The Independent. Together with Le Monde, the national French daily, the three newspapers have set up a company, European Newspapers Associated, to look at projects in Europe. One is the possible launch of a French national morning daily. A decision on whether to proceed is expected in the next few months.

Pearson, which owns the Financial Times, has bought Les Echos, the French financial daily, as well as a stake in the company that publishes both Expansion, the biggest-selling financial daily in Spain, and Marca, the seven-day sports newspaper that also has Spain's largest readership.

Graham Luff, managing director of Newspaper Publishing, which publishes The Independent and the Independent on Sunday, said the company turned to the other newspapers rather than to institutions for increased investment "because they would bring something in terms of development within Europe; that they would understand publishing, and they would be here for the long term."

The knowledge that each newspaper brings to the alliance, Luff said, is important. "We're learning a lot from each other in terms of technology. We also recognize that on selected issues, information can be transported from one newspaper to another."

Luff stresses that the partners are in no hurry. "We in the U.K. have had a very difficult time with the economy. We've had to concentrate on issues at home."

Luff sees good opportunities in Europe in coming years. For instance, he expects that the advertising industry will become gradually "more focused within the Community than in individual countries."

Pearson's Les Echos purchase came after the British publisher had bought an initial stake in the French paper. The moves into France and Spain were in line with Pearson's strategy of buying or starting financial-business newspapers published in the native languages of other countries. Pearson, said group managing director Frank Barlow, remains on the lookout for similar opportunities.

"I don't think anyone is doing quite what we're doing," he said.

Once in the Pearson stable, Barlow said, European newspapers can "hook up to the FT's data base and use any international news that is of interest to them."

Access to the Financial Times resources, he said, was important in Spain in 1991, when British publisher Robert Maxwell drowned in the Atlantic Ocean.

European newspapers, Barlow argues, can be good investments. He noted that they tend to have prepaid circulations, bringing in a guaranteed cash flow, and their advertising base, much lower than in Britain, holds promise for future growth.

Alastair Smellie, a media analyst at Lehman Brothers International in London, said that Pearson's investments in foreign newspapers which would have an appetite for Financial Times data and news reports represent an attempt by the British publisher to "leverage a financial product" that is international by its nature. This strategy, he said, offers a high degree of "operational and financial synergy."

Movements toward cross-border ownership have been given a legal impetus by the arrival of the single European market. As of Jan. 1, 1993, the 12nation European Community became one market, equally open to all of its citizens. Companies from one EC country are free to buy companies in any of the other 11 states.

However, strong barriers to crossborder ownership remain. Steve Winram, worldwide media research and information director at Zenith Media Worldwide in London, said that most of Europe's major print media owners still do around 90% of their business in their home markets. …

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