Regional publisher Johnston Press has signalled it may sell off some of its 200-plus newspaper titles to fund investment and help pay down debt.
In a trading update this morning, JP announced it has carried out a review of its portfolio that has identified some assets for potential sale.
The company says it is now exploring whether some of these assets could be sold to what it is calling “identified parties” and the proceeds used to help pay off its £184.6m net debt.
Today’s update states: “As part of the group’s portfolio review, a number of brands have been identified that are not part of its long-term future, as they fall outside its selected markets, do not match the audience focus, or do not offer the levels of digital growth sought by the group.
“A process has been initiated to explore the sale of these assets to identified parties.
“If the disposal process is successful in realising appropriate value for the assets, proceeds will be used to fund on-going investment in preferred markets and to further deleverage the group.”
The group’s current portfolio includes 13 daily, 154 weekly paid-for and 37 weekly free newspapers, a number of glossy monthly lifestyle magazines, some smaller specialist local publications, 215 local websites, and 31 tablet and smartphone apps.
Chief executive Ashley Highfield said: “We have a very clear portfolio strategy this year and will be focusing on three key areas that can help us return to overall growth: audiences (delivering the right content and advertising to the right audiences); geographies (focusing on our brands which are in markets where there is potential for growth) and serving our higher-yielding customers ever better to ensure we get our local display advertising business back to growth (our national advertising business, helped by the 1XL digital advertising network, is already in growth).
“Having carried out a full portfolio review we have identified some brands which don’t fit with this longer-term strategy or which might better complement another business’ portfolio.
“We are currently looking into various opportunities – including selling certain assets – and will make further announcements when, and if, it is appropriate.
“Proceeds from any potential sale could be invested in our growth markets, and to further delever the business.”
According to the trading update, which covers the whole of 2015, underlying revenues fell 7pc year-on-year, with print advertising revenues down 12pc.
However digital revenues were up 12pc and the number of unique users across JP’s online portfolio rose to 22.6m.
National display advertising revenues saw a rise of 3pc, driven by a near-doubling of revenues from digital advertising exchange partnership 1XL, but local display revenues were down 7pc.
The former classified categories of recruitment, property and motors were down 13pc, 17pc, and 11pc respectively.
The update references the regional management restructure carried on 1 December which saw a number of senior executives leave the business and the promotion of Jeremy Clifford to a newly-created editor-in-chief role.
“This will enable the group to prioritise investment in growth markets while delivering a consistent advertising solution to both National and SME display advertisers across the portfolio,” it said.
“The alignment of editorial under a single editor-in-chief, will also ensure content sharing is optimised and a clear consistent approach to delivering content to audiences online, on mobile, via social media and in print.
“The group has clear plans to drive revenue and make further cost reductions in 2016, guided by a strategy that prioritises our display advertising products and focuses on growing digital revenues in key economic-growth geographies and with key audiences with more disposable income.”
Last week, JP announced a group-wide reorganisation which the National Union of Journalists has claimed could lead to up to 100 job losses.
JP staff in Scotland have been told the company is seeking up to 32 voluntary redundancies across its Scottish operations, which include The Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News, while the BBC has reported that 13 editorial jobs to go in its Northern Ireland division.
The union has also claimed that 22 editorial management roles – editors, content editors and deputies – are facing the axe across the UK.
Johnston Press has described the NUJ’s figures as a “worst-case scenario.”