Consolidation in the U.K. newspaper market is picking up pace as media owners combine forces to combat slowing print sales and a squeezed digital ad market dominated by tech giants.
In the latest such combination: Daily Mail owner Daily Mail and General Trust (DGMT) said Friday it had acquired the i newspaper from JPI Media in an all-cash deal for £49.6 million ($64.1 million.)
The deal is the latest in a string of mergers and acquisitions. Last year, the owner of The Mirror newspaper group, now known as Reach, acquired the Daily Express and Daily Star newspapers from Northern & Shell. A big question still lingers over the future of the Daily Telegraph owner Telegraph Media Group, which is also reportedly up for sale and could fetch a price of up to £300 million ($388 million), according to analysts at Liberum Capital. DMGT is among the interested parties, according to reports. And elsewhere, regional newspaper owner Newsquest is reportedly the frontrunner to snap up JPI Media’s local titles.
“We’ve moved to a world where partnerships with the biggest media owners are adding huge value to clients, with the need to be across all channels and have the greatest impact with brilliant creative executions,” said David Counsell, trading director at U.K. media agency the7stars. “Having a handful of publishing groups in control of those exciting opportunities means that it’s far more competitive for those bigger budgets, as the risk of losing out to competitors is much more painful.”
Back in 2010, the i marked the first national daily newspaper launch in the U.K. in 25 years. It began life as a sister paper to The Independent (which has since gone online-only), offering quick-hit content at a relatively low price point, an eye-catching design and no clear political allegiance in its editorial. The i newspaper and inews.co.uk were sold in 2016 for £24 million ($30.9 million) to regional press owner Johnston Press, which became known as JPIMedia last year after a consortium of hedge funds took control of the company.
The i will immediately add cash to DMGT’s balance sheet. The i generated £34 million in revenue ($44 million) and £11 million ($14.2 million) in profit last year, according to DMGT. Around three-quarters of the i’s revenue is derived from newspaper sales, while the rest is generated through advertising in print and online, according to DMGT. The i’s new owner said there will be “opportunities for synergies” with the wider group — in back-office, production and ad sales functions, for example — but insisted the i will remain editorially independent from its other titles.
The obvious immediate benefit of the deal to media buyers is the ability to reach larger and differentiated audiences across several titles via one buying point.
The i sells around 170,000 papers each weekday and 190,000 copies on Saturdays, while the website garners around 300,000 daily unique browsers per day, DMGT said. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail had a total average circulation figure of 1.1 million in October, down 7% year over year, according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures.
The audiences, however, are different, with the i newspaper generally attracting a much younger reader than that of the Mail, which leans right politically. DMGT attracted 37.5 million U.K. monthly visitors across its websites, including MailOnline and Metro.co.uk, in October, according to Comscore data
For now, the i will be ringfenced as a separate operation in the expectation that U.K. competition regulator the Competition and Markets Authority will look to review the acquisition. In an email to media buyers seen by Digiday, i commercial director Andrew Webb told partners that process could take around six months but that “business will very much continue as usual.”
Ad buyers praised the i’s ability to maintain a profitable operation with a lean team: The i newspaper’s current headcount is only around 80 people in total. Buyers also credited its small but senior sales team for proactively maintaining strong relationships in a competitive market.
Looking ahead, a potential DMGT/Telegraph/i combination would present a much more formidable rival to he largest U.K. newspaper group News Corp’s News U.K. — which owns The Sun and The Times newspapers. Both competitors would then have broadly similar newspaper revenues of around £900 million, according to Colin Morrison, an independent media consultant.
“News U.K.’s The Sun now claims a larger digital audience in the U.K. than Mail Online. But DMGT (plus the Telegraph and i) would actually have a gross audience of some 4 million per publication day — almost twice that of News U.K.,” Morrison wrote in his Flashes & Flames newsletter on Friday.
Not everyone is a cheerleader for newspaper market consolidation — particularly from an editorial and political standpoint. U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted Friday in response to the i newspaper acquisition, “Two billionaire press barons now own half of the top 10 daily newspapers. Remember this when they attack Labour’s plan to make the super-rich pay their fair share.”
Still, in a market where advertising spend on national news brands is expected to drop 2.3% in 2019, according to the Advertising Association and market research company Warc, observers said consolidation is a necessity.
“I think these acquisitions are needed. There needs to be some consolidation in the market, partly to take some costs out to help the newspapers survive,” said Steve Goodman, former managing director of print trading at GroupM and co-founder of recently launched media agency The Press Business.
On the flip side, the deal shows there is still a market for profitable newspapers.
“It shows people still want to invest in the news product. I newspaper having a group like [DMGT] behind them is a long-term investment and protects the i in the long run,” said David Mulrenan, head of investment at media agency Zenith U.K.