Newsquest’s chief executive Henry Faure Walker has said he is “optimistic” about the outlook for regional news in the UK, but said scale is key to making it work for publishers.
Newsquest is the second largest publisher of local news in the UK with around 180 titles and 28m unique monthly users online across its digital portfolio, according to the company’s own figures.
“We have been buying up smaller companies,” Faure Walker told a media industry event last week.
“The consolidation trend is likely to continue because scale is really important. I’m pretty optimistic about the outlook.”
Since July 2017, the regional publisher has bought Carlisle-based CN Group, Mold-based NWN Media, and the independently-owned Isle of Wight County Press.
Faure Walker said 40 per cent of the company’s advertising revenue next year will come from its digital products.
When it reaches 50 per cent “we start to become a proper growth business whereas in the past our print business has been in decline”, he said.
Digital represents a “renaissance of opportunity for local media,” he added.
“We are generally optimistic. We haven’t cracked it yet but I think we will be around many years yet.”
In some towns and cities where Newsquest publishes, such as York, its websites now reach around 70 per cent of the local population – more than Facebook’s reach of around 50 per cent, he claimed.
This is because local news brands are trusted and the place where communities turn to first when they want to know what’s going on, he added.
Faure Walker also said that while print is in decline, “it isn’t quite as in decline as people think” and that the company still has a “big print news base” – although he acknowledged Newsquest is “increasingly more of a digital business than a print business”.
Newsquest launched seven newspapers in 2017, more than any other publisher.
They included the Christchurch Times to serve an “underserved community” after its previous newspaper launched in 1970s, and the Oldham Times, after 160-year-old daily the Oldham Chronicle closed.
Closures in the past two months have included the free Campaign Series in Wales, due to the effect of the “digital revolution”, and the Epsom Guardian in south west London, which was relaunched as an edition of the Surrey Comet.
Faure Walker said he is “more interested” in Newsquest’s magazine business, which publishes a series of free local luxury Living titles, such as Yorkshire Living and North East Living.
He said: “We think there is more longevity in high-quality magazines than newsprint. Certainly local level advertisers are still very interested in the magazines.”