The UK’s i paper made £9.3m in its first full financial year and more than doubled its adjusted earnings – up from £3.3m to £7.6m – when compared year-on-year over a 38-week period.
This “exceptional performance” by the national daily, which claims a 20 per cent share of the quality weekday newspaper market, couldn’t stop earnings and profit at owner Johnston Press from falling last year.
The publisher of the Scotsman and Yorkshire Post reported a pre-tax loss of £95m and had to further reduce the book value of its titles by £57m, to £84m. With £196m of debt, it has yet to find a way of rolling it over when it becomes due, in June 2019.
In a statement accompanying its 2017 figures, JP said that the overall “trading environment remains challenging”, but that there had been “some improvement in the national print advertising market”.
JP believes that there has been a move back to trusted news brands in reaction to the publicity of “fake news” and controversy around Facebook and social media in general.
Chief executive Ashley Highfield said: “Across our regional portfolio of titles national print advertising tracked in line with prior year in the first quarter of 2018, with advertisers starting to increase spend in regional print.
“This trend is driven by a somewhat stronger overall advertising market, our ability to precisely target audiences using ‘big data’, and improving sentiment towards quality print publishers in the wake of the ‘fake news’ and social media trust concerns.
“Classified advertising remains weak, but is now a significantly smaller portion of the group accounting for just 13 per cent of revenues.”
Highfield, who is a passionate supporter of the regional press, ominously added, “Whilst operationally the business is performing well in challenging markets, addressing the group’s capital structure remains a key priority.” Discussions with a committee of bondholders was announced last November, yet there is no sign with the publication of the full-year financial results that Highfield is close to cutting a deal.
The stock remained steady at 8.8p.