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UPDATE 1-Nature publisher prepares 2018 stock market listing -sources

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FRANKFURT, Oct 17 (Reuters) - SpringerNature, the publisher of science magazines Nature and Scientific American, is preparing a 2018 stock market listing valuing the company at up to 4 billion euros ($4.7 billion), people close to the matter said.

The company has recently asked investment banks to pitch for roles in the initial public offering that is expected to take place as early as the June or July 2018, as one of its owners seeks to cash out in buoyant equity markets, the people said.

The SpringerNature joint venture is 53-percent owned by German publisher Holtzbrinck, with buyout group BC Partners holding the rest.

It was formed in 2015 through the merger of Holtzbrinck's Macmillan Science and Education unit with BC Partners Springer business, which publishes scientific, technical and medical books and journals. At the time, the company was valued at more than 5 billion euros ($5.87 billion) including debt.

BC Partners declined to comment, while Holtzbrinck was not immediately available for comment.

Holtzbrinck may seek to keep a majority in the company following a stock market flotation, one of the people said, adding that the company could contribute other parts of its digital activities to the joint venture to avoid having to inject cash to stay above a 50 percent shareholding.

The creation of SpringerNature was designed to make it easier for the SpringerNature to compete with the likes of RELX and Wolters Kluwer, as publishers move more and more into digital content and readers increasingly use smartphones and tablets to access information.

SpringerNature posted 1.62 billion euros in sales last year and employs 13,000 staff. It publishes roughly 3,000 scientific magazines as well as 12,000 new books every year.

It is expected to post earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of 480 million euros next year and may be valued at up to 6.5-7 billion euros including its 3 billion euros in debt, one of the people said.

That would equate to 15-16 times its core earnings excluding capital expenditure, the person added.

In 2015, BC Partners said that it targeted a stock market listing of the business within two to three years.

SpringerNature is a separate company from German publisher Axel Springer. ($1 = 0.8502 euros) (Reporting by Arno Schuetze, editing by Emma Thomasson and Adrian Croft)