NEW YORK (AP) _ Time Inc., the magazine publishing division of media giant AOL Time Warner Inc., is paying $1.6 billion in cash to acquire the largest publisher of consumer magazines in Britain.

The deal for IPC Media, which must still be approved by European regulators, marks the first major international acquisition by Time Inc., which is heavily focused on domestic mass-market magazines such as Time, People, Fortune and Sports Illustrated.

It's also the latest bid by Time Inc. to buy its way into even greater scale. Already the largest magazine publisher in the country as measured by ad revenues, Time Inc. has been on a buying spree lately that included a $68 million deal last month for Business 2.0 and a $475 million purchase of the Times Mirror magazine group last fall.

``We're excited about the potential of this deal,'' Time Inc. president Don Logan said in an internal memo. He said the deal ``establishes Time Inc. as a major player in the international publishing arena and provides us with an ideal platform for future growth.''

IPC publishes more than 100 magazines in Britain, including many of its best-known titles such as Marie Claire, TVTimes and Loaded, a racy lifestyle magazine for young men that goes up against FHM and Maxim.

IPC also publishes the music magazines NME, Uncut and Muzik, as well as dozens of specialist publications such as Horse and Hound, Decanter, Shooting Gun and Bird Keeper.

Time Inc. bought IPC from Cinven, a major European buyout firm which had acquired the publisher in early 1998 from Reed Elsevier, a major business and legal publishing whose properties include Lexis/Nexis.

Time Inc., which has been undergoing a major belt-tightening drive under its new corporate overseers at AOL, has been clear about its desire to expand by acquisition.

In the case of Business 2.0, Time Inc. folded the magazine after buying it and used the name and circulation list for its own struggling startup business title eCompany Now.

Logan said in an interview that the company would consider importing some of IPC's titles to the U.S. market and other ways to leverage the combination of the two publishers, but he declined to discuss specifics. He also said there would not be major cost cuts following the deal.

As for other possible deals, Logan suggested that the company may pull back on its acquisition drive. ``We'll look at things opportunistically as they come along, but we're going to have to digest what we have before we take the next step,'' he said.

The purchase of the Times Mirror magazine group netted the company 20 titles including Golf, Field & Stream and Ski. Time closed three of the titles and put the group, which was subsequently renamed Time4 Media, under the supervision of Sports Illustrated president Michael Klingensmith.

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On the Net:

http://www.ipc.co.uk

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