National World to transition to ‘digital-only’ model

Richard Stuart-Turner
Thursday, March 16, 2023

National World has revealed, alongside its 2022 results, that it has accelerated the implementation of its new ‘digital-only’ operating model to restore sustainable growth, but said printed newspapers are still part of its plan.

Montgomery: "We look ahead to a year of accelerating change combined with sustained profitability"
Montgomery: "We look ahead to a year of accelerating change combined with sustained profitability"

The publisher said that for the year ended 31 December 2022, it achieved adjusted EBITDA of £9.7m, ahead of market expectation but 4% below the £10.1m achieved in 2021, and its adjusted pre-tax profit was £9.3m, up 8.1% on the £8.6m recorded in 2021. Its overall adjusted revenue, at £84.1m, was down 2.2% on the £86m figure recorded in 2021.

The company said its digital revenues were up by 26% in 2022, partially offsetting a 7% decline in print revenue.

Commenting on trading so far in 2023, it said continuing strong digital revenue bucked the trend compared with some peers in January and February with a 9% year-on-year increase matched by audience growth of 9%. This was before the benefit of the recently acquired Scoopdragon and Newschain sites, which were expected to add over 10% audience improvement.

Despite total revenue being down 9% year-on-year due to the economic conditions, the company said it has met its EBITDA target for January and February.

Trading is expected to remain challenging for the first half, it said, however management “continues to innovate to address the headwinds faced across the industry”, including revenue initiatives.

Transitioning to a digital-only operational model, it added, would provide customers “with quality and original content across all genres and platforms”. The group said it maintains its performance expectations for the year.

Chairman David Montgomery said: “We are pleased with the progress in transitioning the group to a fully digitised multi-platform premium content and sales business. We have identified further opportunities to improve efficiency that will underpin future investment in new products, audiences, and the enhancement of our heritage assets.

“Beyond organic opportunities to grow the business there are a number of investment and acquisition opportunities management is pursuing that would accelerate the group's progress.

“Following an encouraging start to 2023 we look ahead to a year of accelerating change combined with sustained profitability.”

Expanding on the digital-only transition in his chairman’s statement, Montgomery said the current economic crisis had inspired the business to accelerate the implementation of the new operating model.

“The company is investing in pivoting towards the customer as a first priority, targeting content that has relevance and usefulness to individuals and communities. The ethos is predominantly middle market, family, and consumer orientated.

“Organic projects are under way to deliver a new operating model that will promote individual talent in both editorial and sales assisted by a greater degree of automation.

“Instead of a digital first company, National World is taking the leap to being a digital-only company. Newspapers will be produced on that basis rather than being the products of multiple industrial processes that should have been abandoned years ago. Ironically the printed newspaper products will achieve greater quality and relevance, in part mirroring characteristics of social media but strictly curated.

“True to our publishing heritage we will make our small weekly papers exclusively local in all content – banishing the generic content that was a feature of previous and counterproductive cost reduction measures.”

He added: “National World is working with technology providers to support its implementation of the new operating model. At least one partnership will allow the company to benefit from the IP exploitation should the model be taken up by other publishers.

“Re-training creative staff as specialist content providers across all platforms is well advanced and 2023 will see at least half of our journalists equipped in video production.

“The new operating model also requires a reorganisation of business units away from the rigid geographical divisions in order to nurture portfolios of related brands and also to release the potential of certain heritage brands.”

National World achieved over 111 million average monthly page views and 42 million average monthly unique users across over 60 news sites in 2022.

It said it has also made annualised costs savings of £4m, £1m ahead of target, with restructuring costs of £3.3m expensed in the period.

To strengthen the management team, National World appointed John Rowe as an executive director on 24 February 2023. The board is actively recruiting a new non-executive director and intends to appoint a senior independent director in 2023.

The company also intends to pay a maiden dividend of 0.5 pence per share, subject to shareholder approval.

Its share price was up 1.33% at 22.80p at the time of writing just after midday today (16 March).

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