Johnston Earnings Preview: No Digital Relaunch; Online Acquisitions Unlikely

Scotsman newspaper publisher Johnston Press has downplayed the prospect of making online-only acquisitions and denied it is about to overhaul its digital strategy. This morning’s Times reported the group “is preparing a digital relaunch as it realises that it is falling behind Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) and the Daily Mail (LSE: DMGT) and General Trust”.

But CEO Tim Bowdler told paidContent:UK: “We’re not preparing a digital relaunch in any way. We have a continually evolving web offering but it isn’t being relaunched; that’s completely fallacious … hopelessly wrong.”

While DMGT and Trinity Mirror graft online-only classified acquisitions like TotallyLegal and OilCareers on to their declining print business, Bowdler sees Johnston continuing to play it safe: “It’s a matter of strategic choice. It certainly isn’t true that Johnston Press is falling behind – we simply have not chosen to acquire digital businesses – the risks, as well as the benefits, are all too obvious. Playing to our strength (in local news), to us, makes a great deal of sense“. So growth will continue to be organic – local news websites complementing their print counterparts, tied together by a group-wide online classified platform.

Former AOL (NYSE: TWX) UK strategy VP Lori Cunningham replaces Alex Green as Johnston’s digital strategy director on March 10; her brief “will be to take the digital strategy forward but not to turn it on its head”. Johnston’s 2007 earnings are out next Wednesday, March 5; the company had targeted half-year digital revenue increase of 35.3 percent.