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BBC News – Scotsman in trouble

Amid declines in almost every newspaper sales figure, the numbers from the Holyrood Road office of The Scotsman stand out.

It’s given up on the monthly torture of seeing its sales fall, in favour of a six-monthly report through the industry’s auditor.

That makes it all the more of a shock to find the Scotsman’s active sales dip below 30,000, its January to June average sale down by more than 17% on the first half of last year.

Its stablemate, Scotland on Sunday, faced an even bigger fall of 20% to 37,400, and the Edinburgh Evening News was one of the bigger fallers too.

This comes on the same day that the paper’s owner, Johnston Press, wrote off quarter of a billion pounds in asset valuation of its titles and print plants. That’s part of Ashley Highfield’s plan to turn it around and point it in a digital direction.

Material uncertainty

The best Johnston could say was that it’s raised its first-half operating profit for the first time in seven years, and digital ad revenues are growing.

In the case of the Scotsman, that’s helped by the industry data showing 120,000 online browsers on the average day, nearly double the level of its Herald rival in Glasgow.

Not so great is the 10% decline in Johnston Press’s total revenue, the 13% fall in all ad revenues, with reassurance that the trends were beginning to look better by the back end of the half-year.

It’s reduced its debt mountain by £55m to £306m, but there’s a catch.

Because it lost out on contract print work with the closure of the News of the World, its previous financial plans have gone askew.

And after detailing many financial caveats, the half-year results raise a question mark over Johnston Press’s financial security:

“It is appropriate for the directors to recognise a material uncertainty, which may give rise to significant doubt over the group’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

According to the official statement, it would take a lot of things to go badly wrong, and simultaneously, before banking covenants are broken. But it’s a very unwelcome indication of vulnerability.

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