APN puts regional newspapers up for sale

The owner of The Northern Star and other local newspapers including Byron Shire News, Tweed Daily News Lismore Echo and Ballina Advocate has put them on the market, saying they are dragging the company down.

They join more than 100 regional newspapers and websites in Queensland and northern NSW that are are up for sale as their owner says it no longer wants to pour money into them.

APN News & Media says it is in talks about the divestment of its Australian Regional Media (ARM) business, which reaches an audience of more than 1.5 million between Mackay and Coffs Harbour.

ARM’s earnings dropped 27 per cent in calendar 2015, despite millions in cost cuts and growth in digital subscriptions beginning to replace the declining newspaper audience.

‘Further investment in this business is now inconsistent with APN’s long term ambitions and we have commenced the process to divest the business,’ APN chief executive Ciaran Davis said.

According to industry publication TheNewspaperWorks APN was asked after its results presentation, whether News Corp Australia was the only potential purchaser of the mastheads and how APN would ensure it was not disadvantaged in the sales process by News’ investment in the company. (News holds a 15 per cent strategic stake in APN.)

‘In response APN said it was talking to a number of parties, and it was too early for a price guide,’ TheNewspaperWorks reported.

Byron Shire Echo and Echonetdaily general manager Simon Haslam said, ‘This just reinforces the point that Rupert Murdoch is calling the shots at APN.’

Mr Haslam added, ‘On behalf of The Echo, I’m happy to offer to run free classifieds for APN to help them in their search for an alternative purchaser, so Byron shire is not further exposed to News Ltd, as Murdoch’s ownership increases to 100 per cent of the Byron News and Northern Star.’

$10 million loss

A $51 million cut to the value of APN’s regional newspaper mastheads dragged the company to a loss of $10 million for 2015.

APN may also end up selling its New Zealand newspaper, radio and magazine business, which is its second biggest earner.

Plans to list NZME on the share market have been scrapped because of falling advertising spending, and APN said it is now considering its options for the business.

The company wants to focus on growth in its more successful businesses, the Australian Radio Network and outdoor advertising group Adshel.

Radio earnings rose 25 per cent in 2015, as Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O drove ratings success at KIIS, while its Pure Gold network also rated well in Sydney and Melbourne.

Mr Davis said the Australian radio market was up five per cent in January, with ARN continuing to take market share.

The network wants to grow its younger audience, with investment in mobile, video and social platforms, such as the iHeartRadio app.

Adshel’s earnings rose four per cent in 2015 as it launched digital billboards at bus stops.

APN shares were up 2.5 cents at 52.5 cents.

APN plunges into the red

* Net loss of $10.2m vs $11.5m net profit

* Revenue flat at $850m

* No dividend, unchanged

– with AAP

Echonetdaily and the Byron Shire Echo remain the only independent, wholly locally owned news publications in the northern rivers.

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