JOHNSTON Press, the owner of The Yorkshire Post, has confirmed that it plans to buy i, the award-winning national newspaper, in a deal that will turn the company into Britain’s fourth largest print publisher.
Ashley Highfield, the chief executive of Johnston Press, said the “transformational” deal would give the company a national reach which will make it more attractive to advertisers.
Mr Highfield told The Yorkshire Post that he wanted the i to become the “national paper for a federal, devolved Britain”.
Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev agreed a deal to sell the i, which is the sister paper of The Independent, to Johnston Press for around £24m. The i has a circulation of 275,000 and reported profits of £5.2m last year.
Mr Highfield added: “There is a massive brand loyalty to the i. People buy it on its own merits – they don’t see it as the baby brother of The Independent.”
Mr Highfield said the deal could take around eight weeks to complete, and he was looking forward to launching an i website to boost the company’s digital offering.
He added: “Our portfolio footprint at the moment covers about a quarter of the country. With this deal we would gain national reach – a very compelling offering for advertisers – and for our existing digital products like Digital Kitbag and Jobs Today.
“We’re adding a quality, national daily newspaper, with a loyal, upmarket readership and growing circulation revenues to our portfolio. This means that 600,000 people will buy one of our newspapers every day, as the i’s younger readership helps to extend our reach even further.
“In addition, we will be launching a dedicated i website and app - a great addition to our digital line-up. This enables us to compete for an even greater share of the national advertising market, and directly supports our audience growth ambitions.”
Mr Highfield said the acquisition is a significant investment in Johnston Press’s future success.
He added: “It opens up even more opportunities for advertisers and audiences to engage with us – great news for all areas of our business.”
In a statement, Johnston Press said the £24m consideration will be satisfied from the group’s existing cash resources. Johnston Press believes that the i will provide strong cash generation, which in turn will provide financial flexibility for continued investment in digital and regional areas of the UK within Johnston Press.
The statement added: “The directors believe that the acquisition of i would build strength into the existing portfolio of Johnston Press’ brands, such as The Scotsman, The Yorkshire Post and (the Belfast based) Newsletter, enabling the group to offer a package of premium brands to the market.”
The owners of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday newspapers confirmed the print version of the titles will close, leaving an online-only edition. ESI Media said The Independent, launched in 1986, will become “the first national newspaper title to move to a digital-only future”.
The Independent on Sunday will go online only on March 20, with The Independent following on March 26.
The Independent newspapers are part of the group owned by the Lebedev family, who have other media assets including the Evening Standard.
The Independent’s current paid circulation is just over 40,000 while its Sunday sister title sells just under 43,000 copies.