A regional publisher will introduce more paywalls after a “rapid growth” in digital subscriptions during the coronavirus crisis – but says it cannot yet return all of its journalists to full pay.
JPIMedia has confirmed plans to roll out its digital subscription model on the sites of seven of its daily titles, beginning in the next fortnight and then throughout July.
In an update issued to staff, chief executive David King revealed three of the eight free weeklies which temporarily ceased publication due to the pandemic – MK Citizen, Bedford Times & Citizen, and News Post Leader – will return from 29 June.
The company will also reverse a 10pc pay cut, implemented in April, on earnings between £18,000 and £22,500 per annum.
However, he also confirmed the company’s recovery from the economic effects of the pandemic had not been “as quick or as strong as we might have hoped” and that therefore the policy would remain in place for those earning between £22,500 and £40,000 pa.
JPIMedia’s policy of 15pc cuts on earnings over £40,000 will remain for the time being, as will the flat 20pc cut on the salaries of its board members.
In his message, David said there had been recent improvements of around 1pc-2pc on newspapers sales levels, although circulation revenues have not yet recovered to target levels, while the company’s printing business has also seen a drop in revenues – in line with circulation declines of its contract print customers.
He added: “Despite the issues we have faced, we should not lose sight of the notable successes and exceptional creativity that we have delivered during this period.
“Our loyal audience across the group has increased by 23pc year-on-year since January and the overall number of page views has seen a growth of 43pc year-on-year even with the absence of football content, as more people turned to trusted news sources.
“We have also seen rapid growth in digital subscriptions across the five titles that these are offered on (The Scotsman, The News, The Star, The Gazette and the News Letter). As part of our digital strategy, we are about to move these titles onto a new subscription platform to enhance the user experience.
“I am also pleased to say we will also be launching digital subscriptions on a further seven of our daily titles’ websites. This will begin in a couple of weeks with the rollout running throughout July.”
HTFP has asked the company which titles will be introducing the model.
A small number of staff have also returned to working from two of the company’s offices, Leeds and Sheffield, in line with current government social distancing advice.
But David, pictured, added it was “unlikely” many more staff would return to offices soon unless the current two-metre distancing rule changes.
Discussing issues around pay, he said: “As I mentioned before, the government Coronavirus Job Retention scheme (the furlough scheme) has been extended until October.
“While we have started to bring a limited number of people back from furlough where activity levels support it, such as in the public notices and BMD sales teams, we anticipate that returning people to full-time work from furlough may be a slow process, largely dependent on demand from customers.
“Shortly we will have the option to bring people back from furlough part-time and of course we will look at that nearer the time.
“As you can see there is lots going on and I would like to thank you all for your patience and hard work throughout these challenging times.
“I know it is not easy for any of you and I look forward, as I’m sure you do too, to getting back to a degree of normality. In the meantime, please take care of yourselves.”