The UK competition watchdog has urged Future to sell off three of its titles before giving the go-ahead to its £140m buyout of TI Media.
It said it was looking at whether the deal “may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition”.
The CMA has now told Future it will launch a further investigation unless the publisher sells three “closely competing” titles, one each from its photography and football magazines and technology websites.
Future owns football magazine Four Four Two and photography magazine Digital Camera, while its technology websites include Tech Radar and T3.
Its purchase of TI Media included World Soccer, Amateur Photographer and the website Trusted Reviews.
The CMA said there was “limited overlap” between the two publishers overall, meaning the deal mostly presents no competition concerns.
But it was concerned that readers of football and photography magazines and those who use or advertise on technology sites could “face higher prices or lower quality products” as the two publishers combined would hold a “very strong position” in these markets.
Colin Raftery, the CMA’s senior director of mergers, said: “Online content is having a major impact on the publishing industry, but specialist magazines still sell millions of copies each year and are highly valued by their readers because of the breadth and quality of their content.
“If Future were to hold all of these titles, there’s a real risk that these readers of football and photography magazines could end up paying more for lower quality products because of the lack of choice in the market.”
According to ABC, Four Four Two had an average circulation of 36,213 last year while World Soccer had a circulation of 22,708 in 2016, the last year for which ABC figures are available. Both are monthly magazines.
Digital Camera magazine had an average monthly circulation of 23,745 last year while the Amateur Photographer had a weekly circulation of 13,144.
The CMA said Future and TI Media should address its concerns by the end of this week or face a full in-depth six-month investigation being launched.
Future said in a statement it was “in discussion with the CMA on the potential remedies to be offered to mitigate these competition issues with a view to agreeing a basis on which it can close the transaction as soon as practicable”.
It added that it would provide an update on completion of the acquisition “in due course”.
Future currently publishes 140 titles including Total Film, Classic Rock and What Hi-Fi?, and has said the deal would give it a much larger female readership due to the addition of lifestyle and women’s interest titles to its roster.
TI Media counts Marie Claire UK, Woman and Home, and What’s On TV among its 40 brands.