Johnston Press '˜encouraged' by improving sales trends

Media group Johnston Press today said it was 'encouraged' by improving revenue trends in the face of 'challenging' conditions for the regional newspaper market.

Johnston Press, led by CEO Ashley Highfield, said total revenues were up on a year ago. Picture: Malcolm Irving
Johnston Press, led by CEO Ashley Highfield, said total revenues were up on a year ago. Picture: Malcolm Irving

In a trading update ahead of its annual shareholder meeting, to be held on Monday, the owner of The Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News and i newspapers said total revenues for the 17 weeks to the end of April were up 0.2 per cent on the same period last year.

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Digital advertising revenues, excluding classified, rose 10 per cent, while the group’s overall digital audience expanded by 11 per cent to 26 million, with average page views increasing by 17 per cent.

Johnston Press, headed by chief executive Ashley Highfield, said that the i, acquired in a £24 million deal last year, “continues to perform well”, with newspaper sales volumes – excluding bulks – up 4 per cent in the 12 months since its purchase, circulation revenues up 23 per cent and average website unique users growing 12 per cent between February and March.

It added: “Circulation volumes of key daily newspapers, The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post, continue to improve, while other large dailies have also seen some improvement, including the Sheffield Star, Yorkshire Evening Post and the Edinburgh Evening News.”

The update comes after the group said in March that adjusted revenues fell 6 per cent to £221.5m in 2016, but the decline slowed to 5 per cent in the third quarter and sales were up 1 per cent in the final three months of the year.

On a bottom-line basis, Johnston Press recorded a statutory pre-tax loss of £300.3m for the year, against a £2.2m profit in 2015, having taken a £344.3m impairment on publishing titles and print assets to reflect the “current trading performance of the group”.

Excluding the impairment charge and other items, the firm posted an adjusted operating profit of £42.1m, down 14.5 per cent on a year earlier.

“The trends seen in the first quarter, as set out in the announcement of the group’s 2016 results on 29 March 2017, have continued and the board expects trading for the full year to be in line with market expectations,” Johnston Press said today.

“The board notes that trading conditions for regional newspapers in the UK remain challenging and, while encouraged by improving trends across the group, the management team continues to take actions to manage its costs tightly.”