Archant CEO leaves, 170 jobs go and printing to be done elsewhere

“The chief executive of one of Britain’s largest regional newspaper groups is to leave and 90 jobs are to go as the publisher stops printing its own titles after more than 170 years.

Norwich-based Archant, whose publications include Ham & High in London and the anti-Brexit New European, is to announce that Jeff Henry is to stand down after running the business for the last five years. The group’s chairman Simon Bax, a former top executive at Pixar who sits on the board of Channel 4, will take the role of executive chairman.

The company, which was co-founded in 1845 by mustard magnates the Colman family, has also decided to close its printing operation at Thorpe, just outside of Norwich, with the loss of about 90 jobs.

The closure of the site, which prints Archant’s four daily newspapers and virtually all of its 50 weekly ones, brings an end to the company printing titles locally.

It is understood that the printing of its newspapers is to be outsourced to News UK, publisher of the Sun and the Times. The combination of cost savings and commercial revenue from the seven-year deal makes the outsourcing move worth millions annually to Archant.

Since joining in 2014, Henry, a former senior ITV executive, has battled to replace the inexorable decline in sales and ad revenue from print with income from digital sources as well as events and exhibitions.

However, like its peers, Archant has struggled. Total revenues have fallen almost 30% in the last four years, from £122m in 2014 to £87.2m last year. Digital revenues are thought to be about £15m annually.

The strain local newspaper proprietors are facing can be seen in the sales decline of Archant’s flagship title, the 149-year old Eastern Daily Press. Sales in the UK’s biggest-selling morning regional newspaper have decreased by two-thirds since 2000, when its circulation stood at more than 75,000. Circulation has more than halved in the last decade to 25,600.

Last week, Archant announced a landmark three-year, multimillion pound deal with Google called Project Neon. This will focus on local digital news run by the publisher’s chief content officer, Matt Kelly.

The owners of Archant, which also publishes about 60 specialist and local magazine titles including London Bride and Pilot, have tentatively explored a potential sale of the business. Last year, talks were held with Newsquest, the UK’s second-biggest regional newspaper group, but they fizzled out.

The business is also a potential takeover target, or partner, for David Montgomery’s new publicly listed National World venture. The former Mirror group chief has assembled a team of executives – including Vijay Vaghela, a former finance chief at Reach, formerly known as Trinity Mirror – to “buy and build” a regional newspaper group. Montgjomery is also eyeing a bid for JPI Media, which owns titles including the Scotsman, Yorkshire Post and the i, which is up for sale.

However, any potential buyer will have to deal with Archant’s pension deficit, which stands at about £30m. Archant sold its loss-making local TV station, Mustard TV, to That’s TV in 2017.”