Johnston Seeks An Easy Web Payment System As Its Online Fortunes Dip

Johnston Press’ online revenue fell 11.1 percent to £17.1 million through 2009 – but it’s thanking DMGT’s Jobsite, to which it outsourced its job ads platform, for rescuing its web classifieds strategy.

The move helped stem losses from recruitment ads in the first half of the year – the category ended the whole year down 29.1 percent but finished 12.3 percent higher during October-to-December after the August outsourcing, which it says has meant a “step change” in numbers of web job advertisers and visitors.

Johnston revenues fell 20.3 percent over the year to £423.9 million, and the underlying operating profit fell 44 percent to £71.8 million. Knocking out 12.2 percent of costs (£49.3 million) could only partially help that.

Johnston Press, which in November began trialling reader payments for six of its local papers, has not yet taken a final decision on going ahead with the model – but it would clearly like to.

From its 2009 earnings report today…

“There has been considerable comment during the past year around the issue of users paying for news content on websites which they currently access for free. As our content on local communities is often unique, we believe that we are well positioned to test whether users would be prepared to pay for their content delivered through local websites.

“A small scale test involving six of our local websites began in December. The test is designed to help our understanding of the impact of our free digital offerings on print and whether customers are prepared to pay for news. It is our belief that the issue is not only the willingness of customers to pay for news content but also the ease of payment which particular mechanisms provide. No decision has been made to roll-out paywalls across our sites but we remain open to developments in this area.”

But, while paid content raises the prospect of better fortunes, Johnston, if it does implement the strategy, may risk further turning away the younger readers that are already giving up on local newspapers. Weekly paper sales are down 4.6 percent in second half, dailies down 6.3 percent, though monthly web uniques are up 11.6 percent.

As well as Jobsite, Johnston’s been getting its web platforms in order…

— It brought in iAnnounce to manage its births, deaths and marriages listings.

— “The remaining classified search engines for property, motors and business listings are in the process of moving away from bespoke technology and this workstream is expected to be completed in 2010.”

— Johnston will this year roll out new homepages across its 297 websites, based on its Grantham Journal site.