Alexander Lebedev’s Evening Standard Bid Snubbed, Snobbed
Daily Mail & General Trust, the owners of the Evening Standard and London Lite, received an offer they clearly could refuse from former KGB lieutenant-colonel Alexander Lebedev, who wanted to buy the Standard last month. According to the FT, DMGT refused it outright. Rumours that Lord Rothermere was stabbed with a poison-laced umbrella tip shortly afterwards remain unfounded.
Lebedev doesn’t actually go around carrying out contract killings these days, but is a media mogul of sorts back in Russia – he owns the so-Russian-it-sounds-made-up news magazine Korrespondent, as well as 49% of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper along with old chum Mikhail Gorbachev. This portfolio runs alongside more traditional oligarchical stuff like airlines and banking. Unfortunately, this pedigree just isn’t enough for DMGT – one source who spoke to the FT said: DMGT are very sensitive when it comes to newspapers and there is no way they are going to get in bed with a Russian oligarch”.
So, while the outright refusal could be because Lebedev just didn’t offer enough, it could be thanks to snobbery and preciousness, which would seem very foolish were the Standard to go under. Its difficulties in the face of The London Paper and the old chestnut of lower ad revenues are well known, leading to job cuts across the group; they had to bring out London Lite to keep The London Paper at bay, and thus led the two titles into a downward spiral of declining revenues. London readers: have you noticed that the profferers of each paper have grown more and more zealous and forceful in recent months? That’s because they’ve got Rothermere and Murdoch respectively giving them pep talks in the back of the van before knocking their heads together and telling them to get out there and win this thing.
Lebedev meanwhile, seems in some ways like just the chap to take over a newspaper. As well as his media portfolio, he seems much more cultured than his peers – while Usmanov and Abramovich seemingly see art as pure investment, and Prokhorov is content to hang out playing basketball in Siberia, Lebedev is organising Chekhov seasons with Malkovich, Spacey, and Stoppard, according to this interview in the Guardian. Elsewhere, he seems weirdly unmotivated by money: “My stocks were worth $1bn. They’re now worth $300m. OK. So what? It doesn’t make any difference to my life”, before comparing his attitude to those of Abramovich et al: “I think material wealth for them is a highly emotional and spiritual thing. They spend a lot of money on their own personal consumption”. Hmm, maybe this Zen-socialism didn’t really go down too well chez Rothermere, who would probably prefer to sell to some money-obsessed Rottweiler that would hoist the titles out of their hole.
Still, his son Evgeny is doing well with the UK media – not only is he relentlessly papped for his dalliances with Geri Halliwell and Joely Richardson (well, each to his own) and donations to Anna Wintour’s charity, but he’s also teaming up with Jefferson Hack to bring Dazed and Confused to Russia. To be honest, I prefer my oligarchs earnest and ruthless and clad in D&G fur – I don’t want their newly-Dazed-reading offspring to get all hip and lazy, and start wearing American Apparel while making blog-house remixes of MGMT. That oil isn’t going to pipe itself, damn it!