Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield has revealed that every newspaper in the group has a ‘healthy’profit margin of more than 20 per cent – and that he sees the company’s future ‘beyond print”.
In an interview with In Publishing, Highfield said:
Yes I have absolutely no previous newspaper experience but the board had already made the decision that the future of Johnston Press lay in moving the organisation beyond print and that was explained to me in the first sentence.
Not closing down print but moving beyond an almost entirely solus print operation.
Highfield joined the company in November from Microsoft, where he was the vice president responsible for the UK consumer and online business.
Before that he was director of new media and technology at the BBC, where he was responsible for the launch of the BBC’s iPlayer, and he has also been editor-in-chief of BBC Online.
In his interview with media commentator Raymond Snoddy, Highfield added:
If we can get over that we are a disseminator of information whether that means print, online, iPads, phones and possibly even local television, that is the cultural shift that has to be made.
The fundamental thing is understanding our audience needs and meeting those with the right content in the right place and the right medium at the right time.
Asked about the possibility of introducing paywalls and charging for online content he replied: ‘Watch this space”.
The scheme saw the publisher trial different access methods across the six weekly papers: reader registration, uploading “teaser” stories which referred readers back to full versions in the print edition, and paid-for access.
Despite the company’s share price falling from 480p five years ago to just 5p, Highfield said Johnston was still a viable business:
Because everybody just looks at the share price and therefore the declining market capitalisation, there is the assumption that the business is not viable.”
The fundamental aspect of the business is that every newspaper in the group has a healthy margin over 20 per cent and all up the business is very profitable. The challenge is, can you migrate that business into the digital realm quickly enough before profits decline.