Bertelsmann AG last week sold 880,000 common shares of America Online Inc, netting the German media giant over $140m. Bertelsmann now holds 15.9 million AOL shares, representing a 1.9% stake. The company filed for the share sale with the New York Stock Exchange through Morgan Stanley. According to sources, the transaction occurred on February 19. A spokesperson for Bertelsmann was keen to stress the sale did not indicate a weakening of the ties between the two companies, which have joint ventures in the US, Europe and Australia. The spokesman said that because of the joint ventures and because Bertelsmann’s Chairman and CEO, Thomas Middelhoff, has a place on the board of AOL, a strong financial link between the two is no longer seen as necessary. Bertelsmann has reduced its stake in AOL over the past five years from an initial 5% to the current 1.9% just as it has developed its business partnerships with the internet service provider. The motivation behind the sales, said the spokesperson, is to avoid, ‘sleeping money.’ Bertelsmann says it is very interested in the online media business and has long term plans to develop into the Asian market where it is still weak. The immediate goal, however, is to strengthen its existing online ventures, the most recent of which is Books On Line (BOL), a pan-European brand name company that launched German- and French-language sites earlier this month (CI:3592). BOL is to launch sites in other major European countries soon. Bertelsmann is the third-largest media group in the world. The privately-held company had a net income of around $620m in the 1997/8 period on revenues of over $14bn.