Hearst, Lagardère Finally Confirm Sales Talks

Could the media M&A market be primed to kick off? Hearst Corp. and Lagardère SCA finally admitted they’re in sales talks, confirming the growing buzz of an impending deal. France’s Lagardère said it entered into exclusive negotiations through Jan. 30 to sell its international press and magazines business to Hearst for cash.

There have been various press reports over the better part of a year suggesting the two companies were in talks about a potential deal. But the New Year’s Eve statement from both companies was the most candid acknowledgment yet that sales negotiations were under way.

Just over a month ago, Lagardère revealed that it was talking with companies outside France about the sale of its overseas business, which has been pummeled by the ad recession. In the U.S., its publishing arm Hachette Filipacchi Media comprises Elle and Woman’s Day as well as leading auto enthusiast titles Car and Driver and Road & Track.

Hearst has been the presumed front-runner because the two companies’ titles overlap in the U.S. as well as abroad, where Hearst’s extensive experience publishing Cosmopolitan could have applications for Elle and its network of editions worldwide. Hearst also is said to have the financial wherewithal, even after having paid a reported near-$375 million for digital marketing firm iCrossing last year.

Meredith Corp., publisher of mass women’s titles like Parents and Better Homes and Gardens, and Germany’s Bauer Publishing, which publishes newsstand-driven women’s and celeb magazines like First and In Touch Weekly, also are believed to have expressed interest.