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August 29, 2018updated 30 Aug 2018 10:25am

The i newspaper made £6m in first half of 2018 helping offset revenue decline across publisher Johnston Press

By Freddy Mayhew

The i newspaper made £6m in earnings in the first half of 2018, up 60 per cent on the same period last year, helping to mitigate a broader decline in revenues across Johnston Press, new figures show.

The adjusted earnings (EBITDA) figure is up from £3.7m in the first half of 2017. Last year the i, which was bought by Johnston Press in April 2016 from Independent owner ESI Media, made earnings of £9.3m.

The newspaper’s circulation revenues were up by 17 per cent year-on-year, according to half-year financial figures published today.

Its combined print and digital advertising revenues also climbed by 18 per cent year-on-year to £17.2m.

The i’s digital audience was 4.2m in July this year, the publisher said, up from 1.3m in December 2017.

The paper, edited by Oliver Duff, had a total circulation of 243,940, according to ABC figures for last month, down 9 per cent year-on-year.

Johnston Press chief executive officer David King said: “The strong performance of the i demonstrates that it is possible to grow a newspaper brand, despite the prevailing headwinds.”

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Adjusted total group revenue for the 26-weeks to the end of June were down 8 per cent to £93m. Total adjusted ad revenue, including print and digital, also fell by 15 per cent to 43.2m.

Revenue from print ads fell 10 per cent while that from digital ads fell 4 per cent. Johnston Press said “the effects of algorithm and news feed changes by Google and Facebook ” contributed to the decline in digital ad revenue.

Circulation revenue was down 2 per cent year-on-year to £38.9m across the group, with the company claiming cover price rises had “broadly off-set the impact of circulation declines”.

Group-wide earnings (EBITDA) fell by 4 per cent to £19m. Johnston Press made a profit before tax came of£7.1m for the period, up 6 per cent year-on-year.

Shares at Johnston Press continue to trade at a low of 4p – up from 3p last month. The company is struggling to refinance bond debts totalling more than £200m due for repayment in June next year.

Press Gazette understands the share price drop – down from £1.72 per share in 2015 – is the result of market concerns that the publisher will not be able to renegotiate its debt.

Johnston Press publishes more than 200 regional news titles, including daily The Scotsman.

Commenting on the results, King said: “There are two sets of issues affecting Johnston Press. The first is the Group’s historical debts, including its pension obligations, which continue to weigh on our balance sheet.

“The second is the tough market conditions affecting the performance of our newspapers and websites.”

He added: “The market backdrop for regional/local newspapers is extremely difficult… We have continued to make progress growing digital audiences to a record 27.3m average unique users per month.

“However, the continued challenges posed by Google and Facebook, seen most recently through algorithm and news feed changes, has contributed to total digital revenue decline, while balance sheet constraints has restricted the group’s ability to invest, and counter these effects.

“We will engage with the Cairncross Review into the future of high quality journalism with a view to helping address the challenges faced by local news organisations in monetising its content.

“As part of the strategic review, the group continues to explore its options for the refinancing or restructuring of the group’s debt but, as yet, no decisions have been made nor agreements reached.

“We will provide an update as soon as possible.”

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