Regional publisher Johnston Press is claiming an average 77pc sales increase for the five titles it recently switched from daily to weekly publication.
The Scarborough News, Halifax Courier, Northampton Chronicle & Echo, Northants Telegraph and Peterborough Telegraph all went weekly at the end of last month as part of a major relaunch of the group’s paid-for titles.
Speaking at today’s Annual General Meeting of the group, chief executive Ashley Highfield gave a presentation to shareholders on the initial sales of the relaunched titles.
He said those switching from daily to weekly were showing an average increase of 77pc over the average daily sale prior to relaunch, while other relaunched weekly titles such as the Bucks Herald and Derbyshire Times averaged rises of 8pc.
In his presentation, Ashley said some titles had put on sales despite increases in their cover price.
For example, the West Sussex County Times relaunched at a higher price and still recorded increased a year-on-year increase of 19pc.
Said Ashley: “While these are very early indications, being the first week of the relaunch, and benefiting from promotional support, they are still very encouraging.
“While we obviously have to be cautious in extrapolating trends from the initial week post relaunch we are convinced that the relaunch programme will significantly benefit group circulation revenues.
“We will be paying close attention to the trends established over the medium term and will update the market as appropriate.”
The AGM itself saw a minor shareholders revolt with just over 6pc of shareholders voting against the directors’ remuneration report which sets senior salaries and bonuses.
During the meeting representatives from the National Union of Journalists attempted to quiz company leaders about the relaunch, including asking which would be the next daily title to go weekly.
Assistant Northern organiser Lawrence Shaw also asked what profit margins Johnston Press was aiming to achieve at its titles.
He said afterwards: “They said the average was around 17pc and that is where it needs to be. We think the members need to be asking if that is really achievable in a recessionary environment. I am not sure that amount of profit will be able to be delivered indefinitely.”
Commenting on the sales increases for the daily-to-weekly titles, Lawrence said they were good news but added: “Let’s not forget this has come on the back of a lot of people not just losing their jobs but leaving journalism altogether.”
Deputy general secretary Barry Fitzpatrick added: “This is a bold strategy of chief executive Ashley Highfield at a time when new solutions are needed. But he must not lose sight of the fact that he will not succeed without quality journalism.
“We need to know more details. How will the weekly paper and seven-days-a- week daily digital output integrate and how will it affect the working practices of staff?
“There will clearly be savings on print but how will it recoup money lost from cover prices and advertising revenue? These are questions the shareholders should be asking.
“We have also said that shareholders must ensure that senior management consult with staff and have regular meetings with the NUJ .”