News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch has held talks with Japanese and South Korean firms, possibly sounding out potential partners to rival Amazon.com Inc's Kindle electronic reader, sources said.
Murdoch said in August he was unhappy with Amazon's control of relationships with newspaper subscribers for Kindle, and might seek a better deal with rival e-reader maker Sony Corp.
Partnering an e-reader device maker would help News Corp, which owns book publisher Harper Collins as well as newspapers around the world, but which has said it has no plans to become an appliance maker.
Amazon announced on Tuesday it is introducing the Kindle globally, making books and newspapers available on the device in a move that should intensify a nascent battle for the digital book market.
Research firm DisplaySearch expects the $100 million e-paper market will grow to $9 billion by 2018. E-reader device sales could hit 3 million this year in the United States alone, according to Forrester Research, and sales could double in 2010. Forrester predicts Amazon will take 60 percent of the market this year, with Sony at 35 percent.
Visiting Japan earlier this week, Murdoch, whose media empire straddles the Wall Street Journal to Fox TV, held talks with corporate and political leaders, including Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, according to a source familiar with the matter but who was not authorized to talk to the media.
Murdoch met executives at Toshiba Corp, Fujitsu Ltd and Sony to discuss e-reader technology, sources with knowledge of the matter said.
No contract or deals were discussed. (Murdoch) is just shopping around, said one source with direct knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Fujitsu acknowledged that a meeting took place with Murdoch, but said no business deals were discussed. Toshiba and Sony declined comment.
On Wednesday, Murdoch held talks in Seoul with executives at LG Electronics Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, according to sources and local media.
Samsung and LG are also working on their own e-reader plans.
LG Electronics confirmed that Murdoch met executives, including CEO Nam Yong, to discuss business matters.
We have no specific plans, Nam told Reuters when asked what the talks had been about.
Reuters reporters were unable to get access to Murdoch during his visit to the South Korean capital.
Local media said Murdoch met Lee Jae-yong, son of former Samsung group chairman Lee Kun-hee, and Choi Gee-sung, head of digital media at Samsung. A spokesman for Samsung declined to confirm any plans related to News Corp.
Yonhap News earlier reported Murdoch was likely to want to discuss selling news and movie content in South Korea through Samsung's broadband TVs.
South Korean media had speculated that News Corp may be on the lookout for opportunities in the fast-changing South Korean media sector, where deregulation will open the door for major newspapers to expand into broadcasting.
A spokesman for Dow Jones said Murdoch was in South Korea for a very brief, private visit en route to Beijing, where he is due to attend a media summit later this week.
Murdoch will on Thursday visit the Panmunjom truce village in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, a military official in Seoul said.