LONDON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Springer Nature's private equity backer is dusting off plans to list the German academic publisher, amid growing optimism around initial public offerings, four people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

BC Partners is in the early stages of exploring options for its 47% stake in Springer Nature, including a potential IPO as soon as the second half of the year, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Springer Nature, the publisher of science journal Nature and Scientific American, could be valued at up to 9 billion euros ($9.7 billion), including debt, one of the people said.

Deliberations are still preliminary, and there is no certainty that a transaction will happen, the people cautioned.

Springer Nature did not respond to requests for comment.

After two years of subdued deal activity due to rising interest rates, private equity funds are again preparing to exit investments in a bid to take advantage of improving market conditions and return cash to their funders.

CVC is gearing to launch the IPO of German perfume retailer Douglas in the coming days, while EQT plans to kick off the listing of skincare giant Galderma as early as March, Reuters has reported.

Springer Nature is among an array of companies that private equity firms have weighed selling for a while.

Formed through the merger of Macmillan Science and Springer, the Berlin-headquartered group was forced to defer its listing ambitions in 2020 after being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, Reuters reported at the time.

Although it owns just 47% of the company, BC Partners can influence a sale of Springer Nature given its special rights in the company, one of the people said without elaborating further. Germany's Holtzbrinck Publishing Group owns the remaining 53%.

Springer Nature last reported revenues of 1.8 billion euros in 2022 and has yet to release 2023 earnings.

Rival academic publisher Elsevier, part of the RELX group, posted a 5% increase in revenues last year to just over 3 billion pounds, most of which came from subscriptions.

Springer Nature recently secured a 2.5 billion euro credit line to refinance existing borrowings, according to a press release, in what some sources described a preparatory move for an IPO.

Commerzbank, ING, Landesbank Baden-Württemberg and UniCredit provided the loan.

($1 = 0.9246 euros) (Reporting by Amy-Jo Crowley and Pablo Mayo Cerqueiro; Additional reporting by Emma-Victoria Farr; Editing by Elisa Martinuzzi, Alexandra Hudson)