HONG KONG – Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is in talks to buy Hong Kong’s leading English language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, a person with knowledge of the potential deal said Thursday.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing, said Alibaba is interested in acquiring the newspaper and its related businesses.
The Post’s publisher, SCMP Group, said in a stock exchange filing late Wednesday that it was considering an offer, but did not name the possible buyer. It said it has received a “preliminary approach from a third party” for a possible purchase of its media assets.
The company said the discussions are at a “very early stage” and terms of a deal are subject to “regulatory review.”
In a front-page story, the newspaper noted the “intense speculation” that Alibaba’s billionaire founder and chairman, Jack Ma, was in talks to buy the company’s media businesses, which also include magazines, advertising and custom publishing.
However, the person with knowledge of the talks said it was Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd., not Ma, who would be the buyer. The acquisition would fit into the company’s strategy of expanding its media interests, the person said.
Alibaba has been buying stakes in media companies in order to tap Chinese consumers’ growing demand for online content as it diversifies outside of its mainstay business of online shopping. In October it bought the remaining shares in video streaming site Youku Tudou it didn’t already own for $3.6 billion.
Acquisition of the Post would also give Alibaba greater exposure to a global audience. The 112-year-old newspaper is Hong Kong’s biggest and most influential English-language newspaper and followed internationally for its reporting on China.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch owned a controlling stake in the paper for seven years until selling it in 1993 to its current owner, Malaysian sugar tycoon Robert Kuok, who controls it through his Kerry Group.
The South China Morning Post was once reputed to be the world’s most profitable newspaper but its fortunes have dwindled along with the traditional newsprint industry as the Internet changed news consumption habits.
SCMP Group’s net profit has declined for the past four years, falling last year to 137 million Hong Kong dollars ($17.7 million) on HK$1.2 billion in revenue, according to its latest annual report.
Speculation about an Alibaba deal first emerged on Nov. 9 when the state-owned China Daily newspaper reported on a possible investment.
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