INM forecasts intense change after 'transformational year'
INDEPENDENT News & Media (INM) will become a "digital company that prints newspapers" within six years, chairman Leslie Buckley predicted yesterday.
Speaking after the publisher's annual shareholder meeting, Mr Buckley said INM is facing a period of "intense change" and consolidation in the media sector.
The company's next chief executive will be a "critical appointment" that will set the direction for the company until 2020, he added.
INM is currently searching for a replacement to Vincent Crowley who retired last month. Mr Buckley said he hoped to name a replacement by August.
Speaking to shareholders in Dublin, Mr Buckley said 2013 had been a "transformational" year for INM "which culminated in a net debt figure of €95.3m at the end of the year. This is less than a quarter of the €422.4m debt at the outset of 2013".
The company "has a clear focus for our digital offering and have invested in the recruitment of the right talent, the quality of our content and delivery to various digital platforms". he added.
The current digital strategy, which has transformed independent.ie into Ireland's best visited website with seven million unique users, is also yielding financial dividends, Mr Buckley added.
Sales jumped 17.8pc in the first 20 weeks of the year on strong ad sales and new products such as a special app which allows readers to experience a newspaper-like reading experience on their tablets.
The question of when the company may start charging readers on the internet for some content is under review.
"Web pay walls are not off the agenda," Mr Buckley said.
Sales and profitability across the titles have stabilised in the Republic, the company said last month. The Irish Independent, the 'Herald', 'Sunday World', 'Sunday Independent' and 'Irish Daily Star' all have an important role to play, Mr Buckley said.
"These titles continue to draw huge audiences with their dominant market positions," he told shareholders at a quiet meeting which saw all non-executive directors re-elected. "There is a continued clear focus in INM to support our print offering, invest in and grow digital and to carefully control costs."
The publisher is seeking to make €20m in savings as part of a plan which began this year and ends next year.
That plan will "unfortunately lead to some head-count reductions", Mr Buckley said. Other costs savings will come from "efficiencies".
Pressed about when the company may resume dividend payments, Mr Buckley declined to give a date but he did say that the share price was likely to rise.
"I'm pleased to say the share price has increased quite considerably from where it was this time last year but it has a way to go," he added.