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March 19, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:32am

The i and Scotsman publisher JPI Media considers paywall roll-out amid ad revenue concerns

By James Walker

The publisher of the i, Scotsman and Yorkshire Post is considering putting up paywalls on some of its websites amid concerns about advertising revenues, Press Gazette has learned.

JPI Media’s editor-in-chief, Jeremy Clifford, revealed to staff that paywalls were one of “quite a few” possible options as the company looks for new revenue streams in the face of squeezed ad income.

Across the industry, print ad revenue is declining along with circulations. The digital ad market was worth £11.55bn in 2017, but is dominated by the likes of Facebook and Google, who also take the lion’s share of new money.

A JPI Media staffer told Press Gazette that Clifford discussed ad revenue concerns and paywalls with staff during a recent tour of company newsrooms.

Paywall plans were said to still be in the early stages and the company was still weighing up whether it would work and, if so, how.

Clifford told staff: “They [the owners] have taken a view on the continuing decline of advertising revenues in our industry and they don’t see that turning around anytime soon.

“So they’re asking a lot more about where the revenue streams can come from, including reader revenues and subscriptions for our websites.”

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He added: “They want us to put a few trials in, to look at paywalls and see whether that works, what sort of model that might be, what sort of meter you’d have on that wall… it might be a hard wall, it might be a soft wall … they’ll want us to trial all sorts of things.”

A JPI Media spokesperson would not tell Press Gazette which titles might be put behind a paywall or provide more details on the possible new subscription model.

They said: “Like most publishers across the UK and beyond, JPI Media is continually assessing opportunities to better monetise its online content to build a more sustainable future for its titles.

“Meanwhile, we are also investing in re-platforming our websites and apps in order to significantly improve our reader’s user experience.”

Speaking about paywall plans, the staffer told Press Gazette: “Paywalls are obviously a terrible idea which won’t work, and they’re transparently being foisted onto us by the new owners.

“The best case scenario is that they fail as quickly and obviously as possible.

“JPI Media, formerly JP, specialise in failing quickly and obviously so we can expect to see that one get quietly shelved – if The Sun and Mail can’t get paywalls to work then the Fleetwood Weekly News aren’t likely to.”

JPI Media has also invested in building new websites for its titles, which are expected to roll out from April to the end of this year, Clifford revealed.

The investment came after the company chairman, Parm Sandhu, struggled to load the Yorkshire Post website at a board meeting, staff were told.

Sandhu previously ran German cable giant Unitymedia for several years. He joined JPI Media as non-executive chairman in January.

JPI Media recently put its properties under review in a move that could lead to newsrooms being relocated, merged or see office space cut back. Already staff at the Harrogate Advertiser have been relocated.

JPI Media is owned by former Johnston Press bondholders bought the company, including its more than 200 titles, in a pre-pack administration deal last November.

US hedge fund Goldentree Asset Management was the majority bondholder of Johnston Press. The other bondholders included Carval Investors, Benefit Street Partners and Fidelity.

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