Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield has revealed the publisher’s hopes that its £24.4m purchase of the i newspaper will allow him to generate bigger advertising revenues across more online platforms.
In an interview with City AM, the media executive downplayed concerns that purchasing a national newspaper was sensible amid ongoing declines in print, arguing that its reach would attract bigger advertising to the wider Johnston Press business. While it hit its profit forecasts for 2015, the regional media group’s advertising revenues plummeted 12 per cent and sales by seven per cent in the same period.
“We are in one quarter of the country and we want to be in all of it, not least because this is a scale game and we wanted to go after more national advertising revenue and have a bigger train set across which to offer our digital services,” Highfield explained.
One of those digital investments will be to expand the i’s digital presence. Highfield said a “dedicated website” is a “great opportunity for growth” alongside a more targeted distribution strategy that will focus on small-to-medium sized retailers such as post offices and newsagents as well as push it into all areas of the UK , including Northern Ireland where the paper is not currently sold.
The deal is somewhat of a u-turn on Johnston Press’ previous plans, which suggested it would gain scale by acquiring a number of small regional groups, which Highfield now said “would have taken a long time and have been very expensive”. Publishers are at the epicentre of content and advertising and as such are having to respond at speed to how people are consuming media in more splintered ways, a trend that’s meant the likes of Johnston Press are constantly having to reassess their strategies.
“I’ve always had a fundamental belief that video didn’t kill the radio star,” when asked about the i’s future prospects in a digital-first landscape. “New technology comes along, but it rarely wipes out what came before it. I think people will still want print for many years to come.”