Johnston Press plans to cull 59 local newspapers as i sale progresses

Johnston Press will sell, close or cut costs at 59 local newspapers, it was announced today.

During its full year trading update today (22 March) the publisher said: “We have identified a number of newsbrands that are now considered non-core and such will be either divested or run with less costs, reflecting the medium-term outlook for the identified assets that fall into this category.

"The company will run a formal process, with advisers, to market defined asset groups for sale during 2016. Interest by third parties, enquiring about assets, has been encouraging so far."

It comes following a year of cost cutting and a mass cull of some 18 titles on its roster. The beginning of the year saw it make a £25m takeover of Evgeny Lebedev’s i newspaper while simultaneously informing its 3,000-plus members of staff that it would be making job cuts across its regional newspapers.

At its last trading update, it outlined plans for the closure of more local titles saying that those outside the regions it wants to focus on which have not shown sufficient signs of digital growth or ad revenue would be on the chopping block.

Titles under threat include the Scotland on Sunday, South Yorkshire Times, the Weekend Herald and the West Sussex Gazette, amongst others.

Chief executive Ashley Highfield warned that it expected 2016 to “remain challenging”.

“We are maintaining our focus on those areas which can deliver the greatest benefits while continuing to innovate our product portfolio and our editorial and sales processes,” he said.

Highfield revealed pre-tax profit for 2015 had grown by more than 20 per cent.

However, revenues fell 6.8 per, worse than the 4.4 per cent decline it noted in 2014 due, in part, to a fall in digital advertising revenues. Digital ad revenues rose 12.4 per cent to £30.6m compared with a 20 per cent growth the previous year.

Meanwhile, print advertising revenues slumped 11.9 per cent to £118.1m, compared with an 8.7 per cent decline in 2014.

Highfield said that the its takeover of the i (due for complettion on 10 April) would give it scale, with a combined daily print circulation of over 600,000 papers "making us the UK’s 4th largest news publisher, and thus numerous revenue and cost synergy opportunities."

"Further, not only will the i contribute positively to earnings but it will allow us to accelerate growth in digital, and help stabilise our circulation revenues," he added. "In conjunction with the planned asset disposals this will enable us to continue to reduce debt levels and cut financing costs further.”