National World said the acquisition would “strengthen its UK national footprint” and give it a “significantly enhanced position in the Midlands” which would compare to its market positions in Yorkshire and Scotland.
National World has also bought Press Computer Systems, which supplies publishing platforms for both MNA and other major publishers including Newsquest and DC Thomson, and said the two acquisitions would take it above the £100m annual revenue mark.
National World paid £11m in cash for the combined acquisitions, which excluded certain real estate assets.
Phil Inman, chief executive of MNA parent company Claverley Group, said: “The Midland News Association, including iconic Express & Star and Shropshire Star brands, has been owned and managed by the Graham family for generations.
“Agreeing to sell was an extremely difficult decision for the shareholders, but after careful consideration, the shareholders concluded that a larger media organisation was better placed to secure the future of the business.
“The sale of the MNA will result in Claverley Group exiting from regional newspaper publishing and as such, the sale of PCS was a logical extension to the deal for both parties.”
Express & Star and Shropshire Star ‘largest remaining independent regional assets in England’
Previous Press Gazette analysis of the regional market ranked National World as the second biggest regional publisher in the UK by online audience, with MNA coming sixth. By daily and weekly print circulation, National World was third and MNA was fourth.
MNA’s Express & Star, which covers the Black Country and Staffordshire, was the sixth biggest regional daily newspaper in the UK by circulation in the first half of 2023, down 18% year-on-year to 13,213. The title was born in the late 19th century when businessman Thomas Graham and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie combined the Wolverhampton Evening Star and rival the Evening Express. The Graham family have owned it ever since.
Meanwhile sister daily the Shropshire Star, which launched in 1964, is the UK’s ninth biggest regional daily, on 9,914 (down 17%).
MNA announced this month that the websites of the two newspaper titles had together reached 100,000 registered users, having introduced a requirement for people to sign in to read about 10% of articles in May. Group digital editor Mark Morris said the intention was next to launch more premium content and a paywall.
National World said the two newspapers were “the largest remaining independent regional assets in England” and said they would add 40% to its group-wide daily circulation.
Online, National World already publishes Birmingham World and the publisher said its portfolio in Birmingham and the Midlands is expected to average 20 million page views per month with the addition of the MNA brands.
MNA claimed in its latest financial accounts to have had 182.1 million page views across the group in 2022, down 0.5% compared to 2021.
National World also already owns B2B publisher Insider Media, which it bought in May and said it has a strong presence in the Midlands. Some of its biggest titles elsewhere include The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post.
National World chairman David Montgomery said: “These iconic and premium brands will strengthen our footprint, improving our Midlands and national rankings in UK media. Our innovations in TV and video, specialist content and our move to greater automation will enhance the future performance of these new additions to the group.
“The greater scale will help underpin our accelerating transition to a multi-platform content business, focused on creative talent. We continue to re-train and re-equip both editorial and commercial staff to serve all platforms – print, online, TV and video, events, business information and e-commerce.”
Midland News Association in profit in 2022
Other MNA titles include the free Chronicle Week with an average of 93,645 copies distributed in the West Midlands per issue in 2022. MNA claims Chronicle Week, created in 2018 by merging seven titles in the Chronicle Series into one, has the largest distribution of any free weekly newspaper in the UK.
Its weekly titles include the Shrewsbury Chronicle, Telford Journal and Bridgnorth Journal and MNA also owns farming and lifestyle magazines.
MNA’s EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation and excluding exceptional costs) in 2022 was down 27% to £2.2m. Profit after tax was £1.4m, up from a loss of £1.7m in 2021. The business claimed to have made investment in both its print and digital products “balanced alongside increased efficiencies and cost management”.
National World said that after completion of the deal it has more than £10m in cash with outstanding debt repayable in December of £1m.
In total it has paid £14m for six acquisitions completed this year, all funded by its cash resources, and the company said these are expected to contribute revenues of around £23m and EBITDA of more than £4m next year taking into account “the benefit of operational efficiencies”.
The previous acquisitions made in 2023 are: the Rotherham Advertiser, Insider Media, digital football publisher Scoop Dragon, video-first and World of Women’s Sport publisher News Chain, and the 155-year-old Newry Reporter newspaper in Northern Ireland.
National World has also confirmed it is considering making a bid for Telegraph Media Group.
Journalists at National World have held three days of strike action this month over pay and the National Union of Journalists said it was “dismayed” by news of the latest acquisitions while this dispute is ongoing.
NUJ national organiser Laura Davison said: “Members are stunned at National World’s actions as they shun discussions with the NUJ on improved pay for members. Paying millions for new titles as existing journalists at the company share the impact of financial difficulties shows a blatant disregard for the value of its staff.
“It is clear National World’s priorities lay far from improving journalists’ pay and retention – reps will meet early next week to discuss today’s news alongside next steps in the campaign.”
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