Johnston Press shareholders have voted overwhelmingly in favour of buying Independent sister title i.
Johnston Press said the purchase of i for £24m from Evgeny Lebedev will give the group"significantly increased scale, a national footprint, and add a major brand to its portfolio". It described i (which has a daily paid-for circulation of just over 200,000 per day) as "a business which has a growing circulation income and an attractive audience and customer base".
The company also revealed plans to launch a new website called inews.co.uk.
The 98.85 per cent vote in favour of the deal was revealed this morning as Johnston Press revealed operating profit of £50.6m for 2015 (down from £55.5m in 2014.
Turnover for the fell to £242.3m (compared with £265.6m in 2014).
The acquisition of i is set to be completed on 10 April.
Cuts took Johnston Press operating costs down £13.6m and the company said that £6m was invested in digital expansion last year.
The company reduced its debt to £179.4m and refinancing has helped it reduce interest cost to £19.1m.
The company's pre-tax profit figure (which includes all exceptional gains and costs) grew 22 per cent year on year to £31.5m. This was helped largely by the reduced debt costs.
Johnston Press reported a 40.7 per cent increase in its digital audience to 22.6m unique browsers in December 2015.
Digital advertising grew 12.4 per cent to £30.6m and representned 20.6 per cent of total ad revenues. Print advertising fell by 11.9 per cent and overall print revneues fell by 9.7 per cent.
Chief executive Ashley Highfield said: "The challenging trading conditions experienced in the second half of 2015 have continued into Q1 2016. We have reduced costs to maintain profitability, reset our portfolio and refocused on priority markets with attractive audiences that offer the best opportunity for growth.
"Success in driving our national display advertising business in 2015 and the rollout of our local display advertising Sales Force initiative gives me confidence for the future despite the fact that the market remains difficult.
"The acquisition of the i newspaper is also incredibly exciting for us. It gives us scale, with a combined JP plus i daily print circulation of over 600,000 papers making us the UK’s 4th largest news publisher, and thus numerous revenue and cost synergy opportunities.
"Further, not only will the i contribute positively to earnings but it will allow us to accelerate growth in digital, and help stabilise our circulation revenues. In conjunction with the planned asset disposals this will enable us to continue to reduce debt levels and cut financing costs further.”