Trinity Mirror this week said its ‘technology-led’strategy for regional newspapers retained by the company would focus on driving revenues rather than saving costs.
Titles which did not achieve the necessary asking price include the Birmingham Mail, Coventry Telegraph, South London Press and several weeklies in Hounslow.
Director of corporation communications Nick Fullagar, who sits on Trinity’s executive committee, said: ‘The new technology-led model means more web-based interaction allowing, for instance, advertisers to have direct access to placing their own advertising at a time that suits them.
If you are introducing those measures into a company you will inevitably reduce your costs.”
Although Fullagar admitted he could not rule out savings elsewhere in the businesses he said: ‘The focus isn’t about costs, its about driving revenue. It is not a cost-saving exercise; we are about producing the best newspapers and other services for our customers that ultimately drive revenues.
‘There is an element of reducing costs, but the other side to that, which is much, much more important, is that it will enable us to drive revenues.”
Fullager said the reason the Midlands and South East titles were retained while others were sold reflects the type of buyers interested in the titles.
He said: ‘The buyers in the South, where the company did sell, were all trade buyers who are not so affected by the conditions in the market place. It wasn’t the same for the Midlands; clearly the credit issue had an impact. It’s not so much that the businesses were a problem but the types of buyers that were attracted to them.”
Anthony de Larrinaga, media analyst for SG Securities, said: ‘The Midlands titles are mainly metropolitan regionals with increased competition from national newspapers. They have had a rocky record in terms of circulations and are more difficult businesses to operate.
‘The others tended to have a stronger position in smaller local markets and had a higher relative market position, although the prices for those ones weren’t great either.
‘I’ve been a long-term seller of these companies (Trinity Mirror, Daily Mail General Trust and Johnston Press) and I do not believe there is long term upside on them.”
Chris Morley, the NUJ’s full-time northern organiser, said Trinity Mirror’s failed attempt to sell its South West and Midlands titles show that the papers need investment in staff and resources.
‘With the Midlands titles, there is absolutely no way that the company can get away with putting the situation on hold – there is a massive need for investment. You’re talking about journalists using computers that belong to the last century.
‘You can’t let a business the size of the Birmingham Mail slide into oblivion. They are going to have to spend money to keep it competitive.”
NUJ members at the Coventry Telegraph were this week balloted on possible strike action over staff cuts which, according to the union, have left 11 journalists covering a circulation area of 800,000 people.
The ones that found buyers
Following a four-month strategic review last year Trinity announced in December it was to sell off the regional titles and the profitable Racing Post in order to invest in its national titles and digital operations.
Although Trinity Mirror had originally expected to raise between £550m and £600m from the sale of various assets, that prediction later reduced to £450m. The final tally is £263m.
According to Trinity, of that cash, more than £100m will be returned to shareholders.
The figure is dependent on how much of the pension deficit the company has to pay back. This is expected to be decided within two months.
The sale of the regional titles brought in £92.9m. In July the company agreed to sell its titles in the South East to Northcliffe Media for £64m and to sell its Berkshire Regional Newspapers stable to Berkshire Media Group, a subsidiary of The Dunfermline Press, for £10m.
The following month the company agreed to sell 27 south London papers, North London and Herts Newspapers and the Yellow Advertiser for £18.75m to Tindle Newspapers.