Growth in digital sees Johnston Press swing back to profit

The City of London skyline at dusk    Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
The City of London skyline at dusk Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
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The chief executive of publishing giant Johnston Press said he was confident of delivering a year of growth for the business as it swung back into profitability in the first six months of the year.

Johnston Press, which owns The Yorkshire Post and its sister title the Yorkshire Evening Post, delivered an operating profit of £4.9m in the period ended July 1, as compared with a loss of £211.7m in the corresponding period in 2016.

Ashley Highfield, chief executive, acknowledged the challenging conditions his firm operated in but added that he and the board were confident they would meet their projections for the rest of the year.

The improved financial results, announced this morning, was driven in the main by improved revenues from digital and i newspaper, which Johnston Press acquired last year.

Excluding classified advertising, total revenue grew by 4.6 per cent to £85.6m during the period. Digital advertising revenues were up 14.8 per cent (excluding classified) and the i’s revenues came in at £14.5m, an increase of just shy of 29 per cent as compared with the 12 week period following its acquisition.

Johnston Press also reduced its costs by 7.3 per cent and its overall debt by 7.8 per cent to £191.2m from £209.4m last year.

Print and digital advertising revenues combined were flat for the period.

Mr Highfield told The Yorkshire Post: “The really good news here is that growth in digital and the i has offset print decline elsewhere.

“We are trading where we expect to be. On digital it has been a really cracking half. Our investment is getting better and better. Our page views are up 20 per cent.

“We are putting growth down to growing audiences but also stronger yields, both locally and nationally. The macro view is that the demand for trusted, quality targetable news is increasing. I think the penny is dropping about fake news, and about adverts appearing on al qaeda websites, and people are seeking out quality and [are] prepared to pay a bit more for it. We are offering ever better technology to allow advertisers to target audiences, and that is starting to make a real difference.”

Johnston Press last year offloaded a number of titles in Isle of Man and Midlands, contributing to its improved cash position.

Mr Highfield said he had no plans for any more “significant divestments” and added that Johnston Press was targeting new contract print deals such as the one it has currently with the Daily Mail Group.

The company is currently restructuring its sales operations with more 120 jobs set to cut.

Its editorial operations in Scotland are also to be revamped with the likely loss of around 25 journalists’ jobs.

Mr Highfield said: “Resources are tight, the market is incredibly tough and we have to make some difficult decisions. And those decisions are that we focus resource where we can on our biggest titles.”

He added: “The core business is in growth and to get to a point where print and digital advertising is flat is a pretty important milestone.”

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