The potential sale of regional publisher JPIMedia appears to have been put on hold after its chief executive told staff it is “not actively exploring a sale” at present.
David King revealed the update in a message to staff today, nearly seven months after announcing that the company was formally exploring the sale of the business.
But Mr King, pictured, went on to make clear he continues to believe that the future of the business “lies in being part of industry consolidation.”
He said that while it was “disappointing” that this did not happen in 2019, he believed the opportunity still remains.
Mr King originally confirmed that the company was up for sale last July after rival publisher Reach plc announced it was in the “early stages” of discussions to buy the regional publisher.
Reach is believed to have offered £50m for the group, excluding national daily the i, but later dropped out of the bidding, as did fellow regional publishing giant Newsquest.
That left former Local World boss David Montgomery’s new National World group as the surprise front-runner with the company invited in for detailed talks in December – but today’s announcement suggests those discussions went nowhere.
JPIMedia did conclude a £49.6m deal to sell the i to DMGT – but this is currently being investigated by the government over competition fears.
In the announcement, Mr King said: “I have said many times that I believe that the long-term future of our brands and business lies in being part of industry consolidation; that this didn’t happen in 2019 was disappointing, but the opportunity still remains.
“Industry consolidation provides an ability to invest and realise benefits across a larger portfolio, to provide an easy to access solution for advertisers, to engage with a stronger voice with tech companies, and to have the scale to invest in building subscription services.
“Taken together, these will help support the ongoing provision of quality local news to communities in towns and cities across the UK.
“We are not actively exploring a sale of the business at this moment. In any event, our focus should continue to be on growing audiences and meeting the needs of our customers.”
In the message, he also reviewed the company’s performance in 2019 and revealed the company had delivered its profits despite revenues falling marginally short of target.
Mr King said the uncertainty around Brexit had “clearly impacted advertising, particularly for the jobs, property and motors teams, with people delaying large purchasing decisions”.
He also praised the launch of the digital acceleration programme, which has seen a new editorial model introduced in the North-East of England, the North Midlands and South Yorkshire.
Also praised was North East regional editor Joy Yates, with page views and unique users in the region up by 49pc and 36pc year-on-year respectively, while the Sunderland Echo had maintained its print circulation performance.
Across the group, page views were up 24pc year-on-year, while unique users were up 35pc.
Mr King said: “Critically with our digital-first focus across more of our newsrooms, we saw growth in our most engaged users of 20pc. There is clearly an opportunity for further growth as we roll out our digital acceleration practices across the group.
“We also re-launched our apps, launched paywalls for five of our larger titles, and have started the journey to a future in which digital subscription forms a significant income stream.”
Mr King said that while he was “pleased” with the initial progress of the group.s subscription sites, the market remained “very challenging.”
He added: “As we move forward, we will learn more about what our audiences will pay for and are exploring how to enhance the technology and proposition that we currently offer to our paying readers digitally.
“However, we should not get ahead of ourselves. The market was and is very challenging. While we are making progress in digital and continue to grow our audience, we are still suffering print revenue decline and total revenues are still in overall decline.
“As a result, we continue to have to focus on managing our cost base, while at the same time investing carefully in the future.”