A few months ago we posted a comment about what the future holds for our indigenous press publishers (which you can read here). The article suggested times ahead would continue to be challenging for the industry but that there were still many things for publishers to be positive about – notably print brands’ heritage, identity and their inherent ability to hold on to (at least some) loyal readers in the era of disposability and cheap ‘news’ fixes.
In what must surely be a punch in the gut for the industry, a blow for the creation and distribution of vital local news and a warning sign for a society dominated by digital giants like Google & Facebook, Johnston Press (AKA JPI Media) confirmed that it will prepare to enter administration.
The publisher, which owns The i and The Scotsman – along with 200+ other regional titles both in print and online – had put its stable of titles up for sale last month, but the overwhelming debt it carries (some £220 million payable by June 2019) made the chances of a quick, workable sale highly unlikely.
With revenues and circulation figures in sharp decline over the last decade, the publisher has now agreed a ‘pre-pack’ agreement with its creditors. This will see a welcome short-term injection of cash (aimed at cutting the aforementioned debt) and moves to alleviate debt term restrictions.
Chief Executive David King will remain at the helm and he has stated that the sale is “the only way to achieve continuity for all operations” and is “the best available course of action – one that offers a chance for a brighter future for our business”.
With the continued challenge of attracting new and lapsed readers, and the inexorable rise of digital domination – as alternative news channels but particularly as competitors for dwindling ad revenues in areas like property, recruitment and motors – it’s hard to see how the future can become brighter for press publishers like JPI. We’ll continue to monitor this deal and watch with keen interest to see how it plays out, but on face value, it looks like another regrettable nail in the coffin for the UK’s proud publishing industry.