Ascential to sell Drapers and Nursing Times as it ditches 'heritage' brands

Publisher once known as Emap will have just one print asset, Retail Week, after it offloads 13 titles to focus on big brands

Ascential, the events and publishing business once known as Emap, is to sell more than a dozen “heritage” titles including the fashion bible Drapers, Architects’ Journal and Nursing Times.

The sell-off will leave Ascential with just one print title, Retail Week, which it is keeping due to its strategic fit with the digital brands Planet Retail and One Click Retail.

The publisher, which made an £800m stock market flotation in February last year, said it was selling off the 13 titles to focus on its “largest brands and those with the highest growth potential”.

The titles, which are being hived off into a separate business while buyers are sought, include Construction News, Health Service Journal, Local Government Chronicle and Middle Eastern Economic Digest (MEED).

“Ascential’s growth strategy continues to be to focus its resources and investment on its largest brands and those with the highest growth potential,” said Duncan Painter, chief executive of Ascential. “This move will further focus our portfolio on our largest market leading products. The heritage brands, with large, loyal audience communities, provide an exciting opportunity for new owners.”

The 13 titles made revenue of £63m last year, and about £10m in operating profits, with just under £9m in revenue coming from print advertising.

Ascential is understood to have been attempting to find a buyer for various packages of the 13 titles over the last few months.

In 2013, Pearson considered buying MEED, which is thought to account for as much as £5m of the total operating profits of the group of titles, which was then priced at about £35m.

However, when John Fallon took over as chief executive from Marjorie Scardino he scrapped the deal and has since sold the Financial Times and Pearson’s 50% stake in the publisher of the Economist.

In 2015, Ascential announced it was “retiring” the venerable Emap brand, which had been a publishing institution for almost 70 years. In the 1980s and 1990s Emap expanded via a series of launches and acquisitions to become a major UK media company encompassing local newspapers, trade and consumer magazines and radio.

At the time Ascential said it intended to close the print editions of its titles over a two-year period as part of a focus on digital publishing and events associated with the magazine brands.

In 2015, Ascential sold Media Business Insight, a subsidiary which publishes industry magazines Broadcast and Screen International and also owns brands Shots, ALF and BRAD, to management in a £10m-plus deal backed by private equity.

Ascential continues to own a large array of businesses including the Cannes Lions advertising festival, fashion information business WGSN, environmental data business Groundsure and Glenigan.

Painter said Ascential’s top five brands accounted for 56% of total group revenues and 71% of adjusted profits.

Guardian Media Group, the publisher of the Guardian and Observer, owns a 8.7% stake in Ascential.


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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