Johnston Press plc has today reported that the i newspaper is trading in line with its ambitious plan, with EBITDA in September, October and November averaging £1 million per month, for the first time since acquisition.
Johnston Press purchased the title for £24m in April 2016 from The Independent*, part of ESI Media. Prior to acquisition, the i newspaper delivered annual EBITDA of £5.2m on revenues of £26.1m for the year ended 27 September 2015.
In Johnston Press' Q3 '17 trading update in November, it announced total like-for-like revenues for the i increasing 17% in the quarter (with print advertising up 14% year on year).
The i newspaper's increased revenues and improved profit margin is the result of the Johnston Press management's strategy of investing in improved content under editor Oly Duff's clear leadership, increased brand awareness, distribution, and advertiser solutions, while delivering efficiencies.
Over the last nineteen months, there has been a significant investment in the editorial team, with further roles planned for Q1 of 2018, including a policy editor with a Brexit focus and inews.co.uk head of audience development - bringing the headcount up to sixty-six.
Alongside this investment, Johnston Press has taken steps to maximise the value and appeal of the brand to both print and digital audiences. This included a relaunch of its Saturday offering in September, with a fresh new iweekend product, which is now attracting 12,000 additional readers each week compared to pre-launch.
Under Johnston Press, the i newspaper's market share of main news advertisers has seen growth of 2%; from 20% during the pre-acquisition period of January - November 2015 to 22% in January - November 2017 (addynamix). Total print and digital advertising revenue has grown 17%, year-on-year for January - November 2017.
Since acquisition, the Monday to Friday cover price has risen from 40p to 60p, with iweekend now at 80p, continuing to offer exceptional value, says JP.
Circulation has remained steady at 266,000, verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation Data. The i newspaper's market share among the quality newspapers has increased from 17.5% at acquisition to 20%; a significant achievement for a 7-year-old title, in an established market.
Johnston Press says the i newspaper has broader geographical appeal than its competitors, with 85% of its circulation coming from outside of London. To capitalise on this, Johnston Press has created a central investigative journalism unit that creates national campaigns for the i and multiple local spin-off campaigns across the Johnston Press network.
The British Press Awards, the Foreign Press Association and the news awards are among many awarding-bodies that have shortlisted the i newspaper in 2017, with the Campaign Big Awards recently awarding the paper's 2017 General Election campaign with Print Ad of the year.
JP says the launch of inews.co.uk on acquisition - evolving the brand from a print-only proposition to multi-media - has also been a success, attracting over two million unique viewers per month from a standing start.
The investment in the product has been underpinned by tight cost management, contract renegotiation and reductions to inherited costs.
Together, these strategic changes have enabled Johnston Press to more than meet the objectives for the acquisition as outlined in the shareholders' circular issued in March 2016, and provide a platform for the future.
The Group, as a whole, continues to make good progress with its strategic initiatives and, while trading conditions remain very challenging, the Board of Johnston Press remains confident that trading for the full year will be in line with its expectations.
Ashley Highfield, chief executive of Johnston Press, (pictured above) said:
"The i newspaper is a unique offering: quality impartial journalism in a concise format with an eye to value for money. It's broadening appeal amongst both readers and advertisers since Johnston Press acquired the title is testament to its quality and trusted content, alongside a clear and successful strategy.
“We will continue to innovate around this fantastic newspaper and build on its national appeal, in both print and digital - as we progress as a modern multi-media group."
*Independent Print Ltd