Johnston Press — owner of The Yorkshire Post, The Scotsman and the i newspaper — said in a trading statement that although its revenue fell 6% over the 52 weeks to December 31, trading improved in the fourth quarter.
Johnston said January had also seen “impressive” newspaper sales results following its “strategic focus on the large quality titles operating in growth markets.”
It said full copy sales of the i have increased its market share from 17% on acquisition to around 20% despite the 10p cover price rise in its Monday to Friday edition.
The Scotsman saw print sales gain momentum through January, with an average growth of 2% year on year, helped by its 200th anniversary.
Johnston said The Yorkshire Post and the News Letter in Northern Ireland were both in single digit decline and further improved their year on year run rates in January.
It said its web offering had started 2017 strongly with record figures — achieving 114 million page views, up 15% year on year on January 2016, excluding disposals.
“Our news brands continue to see strong audience performance via social networks, led by a 60% growth in followers on Facebook through 2016, to two million followers,” said Johnston.
Shares of Johnston have collapsed in recent years but on Friday they rose about 2% to about 16p, giving the firm a stock market valuation of around £17 million, according to Reuters data.
Johnston said fourth quarter revenue was up 1% compared to the equivalent quarter last year, driven by a strong performance from the i as well as other titles including The Yorkshire Post.
This compared to a 5% decline in the third quarter in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote.
“The news publishing market continues to suffer from the severe headwinds of falling advertising revenues (particularly classified advertising) and print circulation,” said Johnston.
“Total advertising revenue (excluding classifieds) fell 7% in Q3 compared to the equivalent quarter last year, improving to down 3% in Q4.
“Excluding the i, total advertising revenue (excluding classifieds) declined 9.7% for the year, having declined 12% in Q3, while improving to a 7% decline in Q4, while classifieds have also shown a marginal improvement in run rate in Q4.
“As previously reported, the weakness of sterling post the Brexit vote has increased the cost of imported paper and ink.”
Johnston said the decline in circulation revenues in its existing portfolio had been offset by the strong i circulation revenues, resulting in growth in total circulation revenues up 11% year on year.
Johnston CEO Ashley Highfield said: “Despite the challenging print market, including a very difficult summer prompted by Brexit-related uncertainties, we have seen some improvement in our markets during the fourth quarter.
“Whilst we expect the overall market environment to remain challenging for both the group and the industry as a whole, we remain focused on delivering on our strategic priorities of growing our overall audience, driving the further success of the i newspaper, delivering a more efficient editorial and sales operation and strengthening the balance sheet.
“The market for quality news brands, that know their audience, in print and online, in a world of ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’, and internet ad fraud, is increasingly appreciated by our readers and advertisers alike.
“Our continued drive to maximise operational efficiencies gives us flexibility in the face of a challenging market and gives the management confidence that we can make further progress.”