Ex-KGB media mogul pays £1 to buy second British newspaper

Russian tycoon and owner of the National Reserve Bank, Aleksandr Lebedev, has added another British newspaper to his media empire.

According to British reports he bought The Independent for the token price of £1 – the same as it costs to buy one copy of the newspaper.

Lebedev is taking on all the newspaper’s debts, which supposedly amount to losses of around $10 million a year for both The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. He is also going to pay $15 million to buy the paper out of its already existing printing contract, which is supposed to run for another 10 years. Lebedev will be scrapping all that. He has also gained a lot of respect for that in media circles.

He has re-negotiated the pension packages and redundancy payments for newspaper’s staff.

Lebedev has said that he really cut a very clever deal because the terms of those agreements will no longer be so favorable.

The media mogul will be investing about $50 million into these newspapers over the next five years in an attempt to turn this loss-making enterprise around.

Lebedev has not yet explained his motivation for the deal, but this is by no means his starting point. He already owns 40 per cent of Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper, for which murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya worked. In January 2009, he bought another loss-making British newspaper, The Evening Standard, and he is currently trying to turn that around.

Of course, one of the things he could get from the acquisition is political clout. He has already been invited to a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Apparently the British PM wanted to see the new owner of The Independent in person, and it is said that the meeting went quite well.

Evidently, Lebedev is not going to make a lot of money out of his new acquisition in the short term, but is definitely intending to get some kind of influence and position in British society that he might not get otherwise.

Newspaper consultant Richard Addis told RT that “commercially he [Lebedev] wants to make money, but politically, I’d guess, he wants influence, access, a position in British and international society that he has not quite got at the moment.”

“Staff really do not care , as long as somebody actually pays the wages and keeps the paper alive,” added Addis, “I think the staff are quite relieved to have a new owner with money.”

British public, traditionally opposing Russians coming in and buying anything in Britain, particularly newspapers, reacted not as much as one would expect. When Lebedev bought The Evening Standard there was a lot of controversy involved. But Lebedev has already almost turned the paper around and gained a lot of respect for that in newspaper circles.

The Evening Standard was and still is a loss-making enterprise, but it is expected to turn a profit in two to three years’ time. Lebedev quadrupled the newspaper’s circulation by making it a free paper.

There is a general feeling that newspapers are a failing medium, so anyone coming in and buying those titles and keeping them going and turning them around is welcomed by the industry.

The public have either never heard about the deal or do not care. Some bet on how long The Independent is going to carry on being The Independent.

The deal has not gone through yet, but it is expected to be fulfilled in the next few days.

Time will tell what The Independent is going to transform into: either it will be a free newspaper, like The Evening Standard, or it may become a glossy daily opinion magazine.