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February 24, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:04am

Independent posts record £5.5m operating profit for 2021

By Bron Maher

The Independent more than doubled its operating profit in 2021 and is now setting its sights on potential acquisitions.

Independent Digital News and Media posted a record £5.5m in operating profit for the financial year ending 3 October 2021, up 103% in a year and 139% over two years.

It is the fifth year in a row The Independent has grown profits. The title has been in profit every year since it closed its print edition in March 2016.

Revenues have also increased for each of the past five years, rising 36% in 2021 to £41.2m.

Press Gazette reported in November that The Independent expected to report it had doubled operating profit and grown revenue by a third.

The publisher said 40% of its revenues for 2020/21 came from overseas.

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The Independent has launched a string of overseas editions in recent years, including Independent Asia and Independent en Espanol. It has also, as part of a partnership with Saudi business SMRG, set up editions in Arabic, Urdu, Persian and Turkish - the latter of which was shuttered in 2020 in a spat between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

According to The Independent, in November 2020 it saw a record monthly audience of 128m unique visitors. It said it had a monthly average of 96m unique visitors across the financial year, more than 50% of whom came from non-UK markets.

The international audience growth accompanies an increasing focus on the US in The Independent’s news coverage. The title plans increase investment in the US by 72%, doubling the size of its US editorial team to 50 with "similar growth" in the commercial team.

Full results published on Companies House indicate the company had turnover of approximately £7.7m from the US and Canada compared to £23.6m in the UK and £9.8m in the rest of the world. The Independent's audiences are roughly split into a third for each of these categories.

A spokesperson said US revenues are forecast to grow by almost 20% following the investment, which it is also hoped will boost non-US audiences with increased coverage of US tech, entertainment, and certain sports. Currently more than 70% of the content consumed by The Independent's US audience is generated from the UK and its foreign correspondents around the world.

With the future of third-party cookies in doubt, The Independent said it has invested in first party data acquisition through an “anonymous to known” strategy for reader engagement - which it says has doubled site registrations to 1.8m and increased reader revenue by 39%.

Other diversifications, including investment in the Indy Best e-commerce section and the launch of Independent TV, have the company predicting that it will reach “its longstanding goal of over half of revenue coming from non-advertising sources” this financial year.

The company said it now wants to build on its organic growth by “seeking strategic acquisition opportunities. These are likely to focus on sales automation, data and fulfilment solutions, to add to its existing market-leading operations".

Independent Digital News and Media chairman John Paton said: “Thanks to our investment and diversification, we’ve had great organic growth for five years now… Key to our growth is our continued investment in quality journalism. Our editorial staff has grown 53% in the last three years.

“We have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that quality digital journalism is a growing and profitable business.

“These results also mean we are poised to consider strategic acquisitions to build our commercial operation, another significant strategic step forward."

Chief executive Zach Leonard said The Independent would “continue to invest in global expansion, new product development, such as the launch of a new Independent app, Independent TV expansion, and building on strategic content sales and advertising partnerships - all underpinned by our best-in-class data operation”.

Since going digital-only The Independent has put up a partial paywall sheltering its “Independent Premium” content, but most of its content remains free to access.

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