Johnston Press puts ‘a number of brands not part of long-term future’ up for sale

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Johnston Press has identified "a number of brands" that are not "part of its long-term future" and put them up for sale.

The regional newspaper publisher has not named the titles, but said a "process has been initiated to explore the sale of these assets to identified parties".

According to Johnston Press's accounts, it had 254 publications as of 31 December 2014:13 daily newspapers, 193 paid-for weeklies, 38 free titles and ten lifestyle magazines.

The publisher closed a number of titles – 18, mostly free weeklies, according to Press Gazette's research – towards the end of last year.

In a trading update issued this morning, Johnston Press said: "As part of the group's portfolio review, a number of brands have been identified that are not part of its long-term future, as they fall outside its selected markets, or do not match the audience focus, or do not offer the levels of digital growth sought by the group. A process has been initiated to explore the sale of these assets to identified parties.

"If the disposal process is successful in realising appropriate value for the assets, proceeds will be used to fund on-going investment in preferred markets and to further deleverage the group."

Asked for more details about which titles have been put up for sale, a Johnston Press spokesperson said: “We have a very clear portfolio strategy this year and will be focusing on three key areas that can help us return to overall growth: audiences (delivering the right content and advertising to the right audiences); geographies (focusing on our brands which are in markets where there is potential for growth) and serving our higher-yielding customers ever better to ensure we get our local display advertising business back to growth (our national advertising business, helped by the 1XL digital advertising network, is already in growth). 

"Having carried out a full portfolio review we have identified some brands which don't fit with this longer-term strategy or which might better complement another business' portfolio. We are currently looking into various opportunities – including selling certain assets – and will make further announcements when, and if, it is appropriate. Proceeds from any potential sale could be invested in our growth markets, and to further delever the business.”

In this morning's statement, Johnston Press also revealed plans for "further cost reductions" in 2016. This comes a week after it announced nearly 100 editorial jobs were at risk of redundancy. According to Press Gazette research, the publisher has shed half of its journalists since 2009, with more than 1,000 jobs gone.

The trading update, for the year to 2 January 2016, said underlying total revenues had fallen 7 per cent year on year.

It said publishing revenues were down 8 per cent, with print advertising turnover down 12 per cent.

But the publisher did report underlying digital revenues up 12 per cent and said its sites attracted 22.6m unique users in December 2015. In its 2014 annual report it claimed to attract an average monthly audience of 16.7m.

The publisher also said national display revenues, across print and digital, were up 3 per cent year on year. It said this was driven by a 99 per cent increase in revenue from its digital advertising exchange partnership, 1XL. Local display revenues were down 7 per cent, it said.

The statement said: "The group increased focus on larger SME customers, with high spending customers in 2015 increasing their spend by 17 per cent year on year during 2015."

Elsewhere, Johnston Press said its Media Sales Centre transaction revenues, including public notices, births, marriages and deaths, were up 1 per cent year on year. Of the former classified categories, employment was down 13 per cent, properties down 17 per cent and motors down 11 per cent.

Johnston Press said its contract printing revenues were flat year on year after winning the printing contracts for the Express and Star national newspapers. It said this was offset by a decline in the circulation of existing contract titles.

It said its circulation revenues were down 7 per cent year on year but that circulation volume decline rates improved by 1.5 per cent for daily titles and 2.6 per cent for weekly titles from the start of 2015 to the end.

Last month, Johnston Press announced the appointment of its first editor-in-chief, Jeremy Clifford. Today, it said this move will "ensure content sharing is optimised and a clear consistent approach to delivering content to audiences online, on mobile, via social media and in print".

Picture: Shutterstock

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