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Alibaba Moves To Buy South China Morning Post

Alibaba is eyeing up a purchase of Hong Kong's largest English language newspaper, according to reports.

The South China Morning Post is said to be in the sights of the Chinese e-commerce giant, with the Post's publisher SCMP Group (Other OTC: SCPXF - news) revealing it is considering an offer - but not yet naming the prospective buyer.

The Post, however, published a front-page story noting "intense speculation" that Alibaba's founder and chairman Jack Ma was in talks to buy the media business.

SCMP Group says the discussions are at a "very early stage" and the conditions of any deal would be subject to approval by regulators.

A source close to the deal, identified Alibaba as the party interested in the newspaper and its related businesses, which include custom publishing, advertising and magazines. They added that the prospective buyer was not billionaire Mr Ma but Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd.

Alibaba has declined to comment but the reaction of staff at the newspaper has been mixed, with some saying Mr Ma has a reputation for treating his staff well but others worried about perceived close ties between him and the leadership in Beijing.

It (Other OTC: ITGL - news) would not be the first time new technology has seen potential in old media - just two years ago, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos surprised many when he bought The Washington Post for $250m - then the equivalent of £163m.

For Alibaba, the attraction of the 112-year-old South China Morning Post would be a greater exposure to a global audience - it is Hong Kong's most influential English language newspaper and readers worldwide follow its reporting on China.

Once one of the world's most profitable newspapers, its fortunes have declined with the rest of the newspaper industry, with SCMP's net profit falling last year to 137m Hong Kong dollars (£11.7m), according to its latest annual report.

It has been owned by Malaysian sugar tycoon Robert Kuok since 1993.

Alibaba has been expanding into the media sector to cater for growing demand for online content among its Chinese consumers, including a deal buying the shares in video-streaming website Youku Tudou (NYSE: YOKU - news) that it didn't already own.