Like-for-like sales fall but Johnston Press seeing positive signs

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Media group Johnston Press has reported an 11.4 per cent decline in like-for-like sales.

However the Edinburgh-based group said it was seeing “some positive signs of a slowing in the rate of revenue decline in November”.

The company, whose titles include The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post, said it had successfully relaunched 54 titles.

Cost savings for the full year are predicted to come in at £30m – £5m more than originally expected.

Releasing results for the period between May and October this year, the group said like-for-like print and digital advertising revenues were down 14.0 per cent.

Earlier this year, Johnston, which publishes nearly 300 local papers, announced a revamp of many titles and plans to improve its online service, while moving many daily titles to weeklies.

The company said the second phase of its re-launch programme had been implemented and “while it is early days, we are seeing a positive impact on these titles with circulation revenues of the 31 paid-for titles re-launched in the second half up 19.5 per cent on the week immediately prior to re-launch and 13.8 per cent up year on year”.

The group added: “Provided that the trading environment does not deteriorate further, with continued achievement of the identified cost savings, increased circulation revenues during the fourth quarter and a growing digital business, we expect full year operating profit performance for 2012 to be broadly in line with current market expectations.”

The company’s digital revenues grew by 2.9 per cent in the latest period.

Online display revenues continued to show strong growth but the overall digital growth has been impacted by the reduced digital upsell from a lower level of print employment advertising.

It said that: “This is being addressed by an increased focus on standalone digital employment advertising and a move to a ‘digital first’ approach.”

Net debt has fallen from £351.7m at the start of the year to £336m as at the end of October with further reductions expected over the remainder of the year.

This has been achieved after incurring £11.7m of refinancing costs and £13.8m relating to the cash impact of restructur- ing.

Johnston Press’ chief executive Ashley Highfield said: “While market conditions have been even tougher than expected, we have made good progress in restructuring our operations, reducing the cost base, maintaining focus on debt reduction and continuing to invest in growth areas.”