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JPIMedia boss says company no longer ‘actively exploring sale’

David KingThe 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.

Mr King singled out Sheffield Star editor Nancy Fielder for praise saying she and her team had “hit the ground running.”

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.”

6 comments

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  • February 11, 2020 at 5:05 pm
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    Being cynical here.. no one wanted to purchase the debt.
    and managing the cost base sounds like more cutbacks…

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  • February 12, 2020 at 12:43 pm
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    Well, no surprises there then. Nobody wants to buy failing newspapers whose brands have been badly weakened, and the branding decline has been accelerated by offering slow, cumbersome websites with poor content. Forget the clicks, most of us click on and off again in frustration time and time again. And, where are the local advertisers? Many still appear in small circulation print titles rather than the websites, but that revenue will eventually dry up. That tells us they like print display adverts and don’t value the websites and the clicks. Reach considered buying JPI and thought better of it. Instead, they now move into JPI territory, taking them online – the papers are being left to wither and die. Sad for the staff affected but everybody knows there is little left in JPI worth consolidating.

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  • February 12, 2020 at 12:54 pm
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    Having wilfully neglected your car for many years you decide to put it up for sale, which gives potential buyers the chance to lift the creaking bonnet and inspect the spluttering engine, kick the bald tyres, poke holes in the rusty struts and wiggle the wobbly steering. When they realise it will cost far more to make it roadworthy than the car is worth, these potential buyers walk away shaking their heads and tutting. So having failed to find a mug punter gullible enough to buy your old banger you try to save face by announcing it’s not for sale after all… and wonder how the hell you’re going to keep it running.

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  • February 12, 2020 at 2:41 pm
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    I am surprised would be buyers are letting slip such a spectacular business opportunity.
    Who wouldn’t want to acquire a paper such as JPI’s Lancashire Post, who on the morning of February 6 had a fantastic exclusive as the main story on their website that Pringles were bringing out a new flavour to coincide with this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
    With ground breaking stories like that from a hugely committed management, no-one could possibly accuse regional journalism of going down the tubes (Pringles or any other).

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  • February 12, 2020 at 2:42 pm
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    Slightly off script here but the point @WYA makes about local advertisers is the case right across the industry and it’s something those allegedly running the main groups choose to ignore and cannot or will not accept.

    Majority of local business people do not like and are not interested in advertising on the local papers webpages ,some have tried it very few repeat book.instead they use independent hyper local weeklies which target a specific community, location or small area with high penetration copies and use social media platforms to reach the online audience, both mediums are effective as well as being cheap.
    I’m told this by the ad reps on a far too frequent basis yet despite explaining this to their managers they’re still pressurised to sell digital inventory above all else.
    The fact digital revenues are so poor ought to tell those responsible that what they’re trying to sell is unappealing to a buyer.
    If publishers listened to the people they’re trying to sell to and acted accordingly they’d have invested heavily in their newspapers with better quality journalism and greatly improved content running coordinated web sites alongside them to maximise reach and revenues, not thrown everything at a medium which after more than a decade has failed to take off.

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  • February 21, 2020 at 2:14 pm
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    Who on earth would seriously even think or dream of buying this company? Those that looked at it very quickly saw a huge number of JPi managers who spend all their time chasing the digital nightmare and wasting valuable time trying to train what’s left of the print sales reps into thinking digital sales by way of a call centre is the only way forward. Sadly for this company and for the communities it used to serve so well, it’s being run now by an enormous team of digital only brainwashed brains. After all is said and done, what actually is there left to buy?

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