Update: Scotsman publishers to relaunch all their paid-for titles, except four

FOUR newspapers are to be excluded from a relaunching of the 170 newspapers published by The Scotsman’s owner, Johnston Press.

Earlier today, the group’s chief executive announced a new strategy for the papers, including a relaunching of all its titles. But it has since emerged that four papers – The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, the Yorkshire Post and the Belfast Newsletter – are to be excluded from the proposed design revamp, which is involving an unnamed “leading international agency”.

Says Ashley Highfield, who was appointed chief executive in July, the plan is also to have print and digital revenues match each other by 2020 – from an anticipated bigger audience than currently consumes the company’s portfolio of newspapers, apps and websites.

He explains: “The re-launch will include major improvements to the design, a significant marketing campaign, and big improvements to the processes we use to produce our content.

“Re-launch will also give us the opportunity to charge the right price for what we produce.

“For example, have you ever wondered why we charge 65p for a paper in one part of the country and £1 for a similar product elsewhere?

“There are many cases like this where we simply under-charge.

“And it’s not as if consumers won’t pay. Our experience is that price increases generally do not have an adverse impact on circulation – consumers will pay, often up to 95p for a local, well-produced weekly product.

“So over the next 12 months, we are going to re-launch all our paid-for titles to ensure that we are not leaving money on the table.

“At the same time we’re going to redesign all of our newspapers to give them a fresh look. We have engaged a leading international agency to support this.

“We are going to overhaul all our editorial practices and processes to make them a better fit to support media across print and digital

“And we’re going to become more focused on cross-promotion between print and digital – there is a big financial price to be had here.

“However, equally important are the internal changes we are going to make: embracing a multi-platform approach, making sure we are both disciplined and creative and sharing good ideas throughout the business so that everyone can benefit.

“Fundamentally, we need to do an increasingly better job of commercialising our audience.”

Johnston Press has 170 paid-for titles. The initial phase of the re-launch is to focus on five centres currently producing daily print titles – Halifax, Kettering, Northampton, Peterborough and Scarborough.

The Halifax Courier, the Scarborough Evening News, the Northampton Chronicle and Echo, the Peterborough Evening Telegraph and the Northants Evening Telegraph have been earmarked to switch from daily to weekly newspapers.

Highfield also says he expects the revamp will result in “a much more profitable business – perhaps not as large as Johnston Press in the past, but certainly a sustainable business performing a unique function in the economy and society, and delivering positive returns for our shareholders”.

He continues: “It may surprise you to know Johnston Press’s overall audience across print and digital is growing very well.

“In fact, the online audience grew by 50 per cent in the last quarter of 2011, largely off our new mobile services, and significantly in total over the year. We need to meet the changing needs of this audience in terms of the type of media they want and how they want it.

“So our plans for local media mix going forward include: New daily iPad apps for all of our bigger titles; new improved websites carrying news updates and fully integrated with social media networks; mobile sites for all of our paid-for titles; and for the vast majority of our titles, weekly print newspapers to allow in-depth coverage of the issues that really matter to communities.”

He later adds: “Let me just take a moment to stress the importance of mobile. Mobile is really important for reaching younger people and visitors to the community. This audience might not buy our newspapers but they do recognise our brands and prefer it as a reliable source of local information. Our job is to make sure that it can find us through effective search engine optimisation, indexing well on Google, and then make sure they stick with us.

“The final part of the strategy is going to be the development of new businesses that bring together content from all our titles across the UK and Republic of Ireland. We call these ‘vertical content’ businesses.

“The concept of a vertical is simple: every week we produce hundreds and hundreds of articles in our publications on similar topics like football, events, small business news, gardening, and so on. The ‘vertical’ will pull all this content into one place, adding in extra content from external sources, social media and e-commerce opportunities to create a compelling destination for people interested in that particular niche. Websites like Mumsnet have exploited this brilliantly – and we can too.”

And he concludes, saying: “However, as my old boss used to say: strategy without execution is hallucination. We need to translate this strategy into a practical execution plan.

“Now let’s look in detail at what needs to be done over the next 18 months to deliver this strategy.

“First. let me remind you about how significant ‘local’ is in local media. Research has shown that: People spend most of their time locally, people spend most of their money locally, and local media is an ‘action-based medium’ – people use it to get things done, to find a product or service, to book something, to identify someone or something locally.

“Our opportunity is to give our brands the full capability to tap into this demand.

“That’s why we will be rolling out mobile services and apps to publications throughout the portfolio.

“The Scotsman iPad app shows how successful we can be with this. It is already ahead of plan this year in terms of the number of paying subscribers.

“This is what audiences now expect and we will ensure that our brands don’t fall behind as the most useful source of local information.

“Secondly, in terms of execution, we need to ensure that all our products offer great value and that we capture our fair share in return for that.

“Related to this, our digital strategy can be summed up in three words: Social, Local, Mobile.

“We want to be the natural home for local social media communities and the best guide to everything that’s happening locally. There is a new generation of digital technologies – from location tracking to hyper-local data – that will take local services provision to a whole new level. We are going to invest and work with partners to build our capability in these areas.

“And as you would expect, all that extra traffic and audience knowledge will allow us to charge more for our advertising.

“Finally, none of this will happen without continued investment in our technical infrastructure and our operational efficiency.

“You know we’ve already got some of the best systems in the industry and one of the lowest cost bases.

“The opportunity now is to extend this advantage – not by cutting costs indiscriminately, but creating operational excellence that provides a solid foundation for all our growth ambitions in terms of product and audience development.

“This means for example that all of our sales executives will get new iPads, with new software, new smart phones and new working practices, to enable them to get their job done more easily.

“So let me summarise: We start with a strong vision: to be at the heart of our communities, providing trusted local media platforms to serve the needs of, and engage with, readers and advertisers, delivered online and in print.

“We maintain our leading cost position.

“We re-launch all of our paid-for newspapers and push our social, local and mobile capability.

“And as a result we enhance our value proposition across all our products and channels.

“Our long-term growth comes from extending the scope and value of our digital media and building these new verticals that allow us to tap into the commercial potential of a national audience.”

He continues: “From a financial perspective, the key three metrics for the next three years are that: Our aggregate audience is increasing; our print revenue is relatively stable – and the success of re-launching all our paid for titles will help this; and the average amount of money we earn for every digital user doubles.”

Read more, on the Johnston Press website, here.