Johnston Press sells 13 titles for £17m

Hannah Jordan
Friday, December 16, 2016

Johnston Press has announced the sale of 13 East Anglia and East Midlands titles to Cambridge-based Iliffe Media for a cash sum of £17m.

The proposed sale of the 13 print titles and their associated websites, which was first announced in November, is part of the company’s strategy to reduce net debt and focus on its core titles in selected geographic areas and growth of its digital products. 

Under the terms of the sale, which is expected to conclude in January, The Scotsman and i newspaper owner Johnston Press will bank a net cash sum of £16m after disposal costs. The full divestment includes Bury Free Press, the Local (Bourne), Diss Express, Fenland Citizen, Lincolnshire Free Press, Grantham Journal, Haverhill Echo, Lynn News, Newmarket Journal, Rutland Times, Suffolk Free Press, Spalding Guardian and Stamford Mercury.  

Family-run Iliffe Media will begin printing the titles immediately on completion of the deal, with production being split across the firm's two operations, Iliffe Media and its September-launched Cambridge Independent. In total 72 commercial, editorial and publishing staff working on the titles will transfer to Iliffe, according to the Milton, Cambridge-based company, which will print its new portfolio in-house. 

Cambridge Independent managing director Ricky Allan will take over responsibility for the titles in Bury, Newmarket, Diss, Haverhill and Sudbury. Meanwhile Richard Parkinson, a former regional managing director at Johnston Press, will join Iliffe Media in early January as managing director (Midlands), responsible for the titles in Kings Lynn, Wisbech, Spalding, Grantham, Stamford and Rutland.

Iliffe Media chief executive Edward Iliffe, said “We are delighted to have acquired these well respected local newspapers. Iliffe Media, with its long heritage as an independent family-run media business, firmly believes in the future of local newspaper publishing across all platforms. We’re looking forward to welcoming our new colleagues.” 

Making the announcement this morning (16 December) Johnston chief executive Ashley Highfield said: “This disposal marks a major milestone in our divestment strategy and puts us firmly on the path of refocusing our activities on areas with the greatest growth potential. The disposal will also reduce our net debt whilst putting us on a stronger footing.

“I would like to thank the staff based at these titles for their hard work and loyalty over the years and we wish them well for a successful future.”

In its January trading update the struggling newspaper group announced that as part of a debt-reduction strategy it had earmarked a number of print and digital titles within its portfolio, that were no longer considered strategic priorities, for divestment. 

After acquiring i newspaper in April, the group went on to sell off its Isle of Man titles, including Isle of Man Examiner, Isle of Man Courier, Manx Independent and to Tindle Newspapers for £4.25m, in August.

In its November trading update Johnston Press reported a 5.1% decrease in total group revenue in the 17 weeks to 29 October. Year-on-year total group revenues were down 3.2% in the month of October although circulation revenues were up 22.5% in the same period, attributed to strong performance by i.

Turnover for the Edinburgh-based group in the 53 weeks to 2 January 2016 was £245.1m.

Following today's announcement share price fluctuated slightly in early trading but remained fairly stable. At the time of writing share price was 13.06p (12-month high: 53p, low: 8p).


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