Johnston Press employs digital first strategy

Johnston Press CEO Ashley Highfield says the UK’s largest regional newspaper publisher is to adopt a “digital first” strategy as the company looks to bring new consumers to the local press and arrest declining print revenues.

Worthing Herald Front Page

Speaking at the Guardian Changing Media Summit in London today (21 March) Highfield said the publisher hopes to obtain 25% of its revenues from digital within the next three years – up from 5% currently.

Johnston Press reported an 8% decline in total ad revenues in the 18 weeks to 5 November, an improvement of the 10% decrease it reported in the previous six month period.

Highfield said despite media speculation and declining revenue figures, local publishing was not yet a “burning platform that we all need to leap off”.

“We can manage the migration to digital. We need to do it quickly but it’s not a panic situation that some of the other press players are facing.

“[Local newspapers] are social, local and mobile but we just haven’t claimed that territory. It is going to be hard but there is survival,” Highfield added.

The publishing group is set to launch a number of paid-for iPad apps and free mobile apps as it rolls out its new strategy.

Highfield said its existing mobile apps and websites have already brought in 2 million new unique users to the group, largely from a young, male, up-market demographic, which does not traditionally purchase a local print newspaper.

Johnston Press has no plans to adopt a paywall model as it looks for new revenue streams however, which Highfield said would be “dangerous” as its content would be less discoverable by search and social channels.

“The bread of butter of social media is about engaging with the community and you have to be free to do that,” he added.

Highfield joined Johnston Press last year, having previously led Microsoft’s UK consumer and online division. He was previously director of new media and technology at the BBC, where he was in-part responsible for the launch of the iPlayer.

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