BBC Magazines – the division which owns 34 titles including Top Gear magazine, Good Food and Gardeners’ World – announced in September it was searching for a commercial partner to buy, licence or take a majority stake in its business.
BBC Worldwide had previously said its magazines were restricted by constraints to its editorial remit and borrowing capabilities and that it had other strategic priorities.
Future Publishing is the latest company to be linked to the sales process and is likely to have to bid more than £100m for the division. This means Future may have to raise finance from a share sale in order to place a formal bid because it only has a market capitalisation of £89m, despite cutting debts of £38.3m to less than £7m over the last five years.
Earlier this week, it was reported that Bauer Media and H Bauer, which are both owned by the Bauer Publishing Group in Germany, were forming an alliance to pitch for the BBC’s magazine business.
Competition concerns may arise should Bauer make a formal bid because by adding Radio Times to its inventory, the company, which already owns TV Choice and Total TV Guide, would have a monopoly over the TV listings market.
German publisher Hubert Burda is also speculated to be involved with the deal.
Although it is hoped a decision will be reached about the future of the BBC Magazines business by March, last week managing director of BBC Magazines Peter Phippen said the company hopes to fully complete the partnership process by the summer.
Overall, BBC Magazines grew magazine circulation by 5.5% for the six months to December and a 0.5% increase year on year. Subscriptions are a strength for the company, which says it currently has 905,000 subscribers on its books.
The Radio Times was ranked as the third most actively purchased magazine in the last ABC figures, with average net circulation of 955,218, up 1.4% for the period June to December 2010 and down 4% year on year.
Bauer Media and Future Publishing declined to comment.