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Northcliffe given go ahead to buy rival Nottingham free

The Office of Fair Trading has today announced it has cleared the acquisition of independent Nottingham freesheet the Topper by the owner of the rival Nottingham Post.

Based in West Bridgford, the Topper has been the only free weekly title distributed in the city since Northcliffe closed the Nottingham Recorder last June June as part of its wider review of the company’s portfolio.

Soon afterwards Northcliffe entered into talks to buy the Topper, which has a circulation of 212, 787.

But the deal has been held up until today by regulatory issues, with the Office of Fair Trading undertaking an investigation into whether it breached competition rules.

In its adjudication published this morning, the OFT said it had concluded that although the merger would lead to a “high combined share of supply of local newspapers and local paper advertising space in Nottingham,” other competitive restraints would protect consumers from price increases.

The OFT’s chief executive John Fingleton said:  “While this merger will lead to a very high combined market share in the Nottingham area, we have concluded that, in this case, the merger will not substantially lessen competition.

“The merging parties have provided us with significant evidence to assess the competitive dynamics of local newspaper supply in Nottingham which has shown that advertisers will be protected by other competitive alternatives.

“We hope this decision will assist businesses in this sector to assess future transactions in local newspaper markets, and to identify the evidence the OFT will find useful in assessing the impact on competition.”

Welcoming the decision, Northcliffe chief executive Steve Auckland said: “This is a landmark decision for the industry. The Topper will make an excellent addition to the Nottingham Post Media Group and provide an excellent portfolio with the Post for advertisers seeking to attract consumers in Nottingham.”

Ian Spring, director of Topper Newspapers added: “I welcome this decision. The merged group will be much better-placed to serve the Nottingham business community.”

The decision on whether to allow the acquisition, which had originally been due to be announced in April, was finally issued at 11.30am this morning.

The full statement issued by the OFT read as follows:

“The OFT has today cleared the acquisition of The Topper newspaper by the Daily Mail General Trust. The Daily Mail General Trust publishes daily paper The Nottingham Post, and proposes to acquire The Topper, a weekly freesheet publication.

“An OFT investigation found that, despite the proposed merger leading to a high combined share of supply of local newspapers and local paper advertising space in Nottingham, there was sufficient evidence that other competitive restraints would protect customers from price increases or reductions in quality.

“The OFT found that the appropriate frame of reference for an assessment of the transaction was the supply of local newspapers in the Nottingham area.  The OFT did not consider that online media formed part of the same relevant market as local newspapers but took into account the constraint from online and other media in its overall competitive assessment.

“In Nottingham, the merging parties had high combined market shares in the supply of local newspapers. However, the OFT found that a number of factors, taken in the round, meant that advertisers would be protected against price increases or reductions in quality.  These factors included: the fact that some advertisers, either directly or through advertising agencies, procure advertising space across many different local areas or regions, giving them the opportunity to compare prices across different media channels and geographic areas; some segments of advertisers would continue to have online alternatives such as property or motors websites; and some advertisers were able to self-supply through distributing printed literature direct to homes, as an alternative to newspaper advertising.

“In addition, all types of advertisers may be protected by the two-sided nature of the market, meaning that that the merged entity would need to take into account the impact on advertisers, on the one hand, and on readers, on the other, when taking pricing or other business decisions (referred to as indirect network effects).

“Taking all this evidence in the round, the OFT concluded that the proposed merger would not raise substantial competition concerns.”

4 comments

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  • June 1, 2012 at 4:19 pm
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    Get ready to clear your desks, Topper staff! The paper will exist for…ooh…another three months at most?

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  • June 1, 2012 at 4:24 pm
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    I’m disappointed with the decision. It still begs a question about the closure of the Nottingham Recorder in the run up to the takeover bid for the Topper – both of which are weeklies. All this on the day when the Nottingham Post is considering yet more redundancies. So much for the protection of quality.

    Diana Peasey, chair, of the Nottingham NUJ branch

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  • June 6, 2012 at 9:32 am
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    Is anyone, notably the OFT, able to explain with any convincing logic (or, indeed, any logic at all) why this deal is OK, when the recent possible sale of Kent Regional News and Media was blocked? Has HTFP asked?

    Or has the OFT taken fright given the title closures and job losses?

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  • June 7, 2012 at 10:47 am
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    Old Topper – Good – new one!
    It will be morphed into a “hand me down” and most staff will go within weeks not months!
    More “good” news from Northcliffe – they close in house paper and buy opposition title (the only one in Nottingham by the way) – explain that OFT. As you say OFT running scared after the fiasco in Kent.

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