JPI Media is no longer “actively exploring” a sale of its regional titles, but said it was “disappointing” none were sold off last year.
The news publisher sold national daily the i newspaper to Mail and Metro publisher DMGT in November, but still owns more than 200 regional titles which it was also looking to sell last year.
A number of bidders were reportedly interested in the Scotsman and Yorkshire Post publisher, but no deal has been struck.
In an email to staff today, seen by Press Gazette, JPI Media chief executive David King said: “I have said many times that I believe that the long term future of our brands and business lies in being part of industry consolidation – that this didn’t happen in 2019 was disappointing, but the opportunity still remains.
“Industry consolidation provides an ability to invest and realise benefits across a larger portfolio, to provide an easy to access solution for advertisers, to engage with a stronger voice with tech companies, and to have the scale to invest in building subscription services.
“Taken together, these will help support the ongoing provision of quality local news to communities in towns and cities across the UK.
“We are not actively exploring a sale of the business at this moment. In any event, our focus should continue to be on growing audiences and meeting the needs of our customers.”
JPI Media was formed by Johnston Press bondholders in a pre-pack administration deal in 2018.
David Montgomery, the founder of Local World and a former News of the World editor, said in December he was in talks to buy JPI Media’s regional titles with his new publishing company National World.
Other publishers mooted to be interested during the year included Mediahuis, which took over Irish publisher Independent News and Media in April, and rival regional publishers Newsquest and Archant.
Reach was interested but said in November it was “no longer in active discussions”.
JPI Media does not publish trading updates as it is a private company, but King told staff that profit expectations were met last year for both its regional portfolio and the i, which had been on track to deliver its full-year budget at the time of its sale.
King added that these profits were delivered through “careful cost management” as revenues fell “marginally short” of target.
He also gave an update on the paywall experiment that saw five of JPI’s larger titles, including The Scotsman, Sheffield Star and Blackpool Gazette, put behind a metered system last year.
King said he was “pleased” with their initial progress and that this had “started the journey to a future in which digital subscription forms a significant income stream”.
“As we move forward, we will learn more about what our audiences will pay for and are exploring how to enhance the technology and proposition that we currently offer to our paying readers digitally,” he added.
King revealed page views across JPI’s titles had grown by 24 per cent year-on-year, with unique users up 35 per cent and growth among the most engaged users of 20 per cent.
He said the launch of the “digital acceleration programme”, a newsroom restructure moving journalists away from the traditional print production process to focus on writing online content, had been a “success” in the first two regions where it has been trialled.
The North East, where it launched first, has seen page views grow 49 per cent year-on-year and unique users grow by 36 per cent.
The Sheffield newsroom, still in its first few weeks of the restructure, has already seen page views grow by 11 per cent year-on-year, King said.
“There is clearly an opportunity for further growth as we roll out our digital acceleration practices across the group,” he said.